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When is a Rolex Like a Work of Art?

Imagine a program, similar to those of the Renaissance, where young artists who wish to refine their craft can have an opportunity to study with a master artist. Individual, one on one training and experience with someone who is considered a luminary in their field. During the Renaissance rich art patrons like the D’Medici family sponsored such endeavors. Today, it is companies like Rolex taking up the challenge. 

The International Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative is a philanthropic program that seeks outstanding emerging artists in six disciplines and pairs them with masters in their field. Dance, film, literature, music, theatre and visual arts are represented with individual, one on one, yearlong mentorships. Initiated in 2002, the objective of the program is to make a significant and on-going contribution the arts. Every two years a new advisory board of practitioners and artists nominate and endorse potential mentors. Once a mentor is selected for a particular discipline, Rolex works with that person to develop a profile of the protégé that he or she wishes to work with. Anonymous nominating panels constructed for each discipline then begin an international search for possible protégés. Potential protégés cannot apply directly to the program but are invited to submit applications. The selection process is narrowed down to three candidates all of whom meet with the mentor who makes the final selection. 

Over the course of a year, the mentor and protégé spend a minimum of six weeks working together, sharing knowledge and expertise, creating, consulting, exchanging. It is a chance for protégés to both deepen their craft and create invaluable connections. Rolex provides both logistical and financial support covering travel and other major expenses. Additionally each protégé receives a $25,000 grant during the mentoring year. An additional budget of $25,000 is available after the first year for the purpose of creating a new work, publication or performance. Each mentor receives an honorarium of $50,000. Rolex continues an interest in the careers of protégés well beyond the mentoring year with support and promotion for projects, works and performances. 

The Rolex Protégé Arts Initiative is not just a marketing scheme concocted by the company’s public relations department. Rebecca Irvin, who continues to run the program, as a way to make a contribution to the arts worldwide, developed it. Since the initiation of the project in 2002, 173 artists, art world leaders and cultural icons have participated in the program including 54 advisors who help select mentors and 91 nominators who search for protégés. The community of artists created by the program thus far includes 39 countries. Arts giants such as Toni Morrison, Martin Scorsese, David Hockney, Frances McDormand, William Forsythe, and Peter Sellars have all participated in the program. The mentors selected for the 2010- 2011 year include: Hans Magnus Enzensberger for literature, Lee Serle for dance, Brian Eno for music, Anish Kapoor for visual arts, Peter Sellars for theatre and Zhang Yimou for film.

Every two years six talented young artists will have a Renaissance experience of being able to study with a master in their field. Six out of the thousands of talented young men and women around the world is minute indeed. But as a fairly new program, perhaps the Rolex Arts Initiative can serve to inspire other such philanthropic gestures in like-minded industrial giants and corporations around the globe. Rolex is doing their part to perpetrate the world’s artistic heritage – leading the way for others to follow and for us to applaud.

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