The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, fostering encounters between artists across generations
What is the Mentor selection process like? I know Mentors are selected by the program’s Advisory Board members. After the Advisory Board recommends some potential Mentors, do you go out to those candidates and talk to them to find out how much they are interested in participating?
The board met earlier this year in Geneva to discuss the Mentors for the fourth cycle. They make suggestions for Mentors, discuss them, and then vote. They come up with a short list of four to five names per discipline. Take Rebecca Horn, (who is going to be a visual arts Mentor for the fourth cycle) for example. Giuseppe Penone, who is an Italian sculptor, and Maria de Corral, a Spanish curator who was in-charge of the last Venice Biennale – both of them know Rebecca Horn and they said to her, “The board recommended you, we’d like you to do this.” And then they put me in touch with her. She then agreed to join the program. That is basically how the recruitment happens.

But it sometimes happens that we may approach Mentor candidates on behalf of our board and they are interested but can’t do it because the timing is not right. So we have to have some flexibility. Someone like the film director Martin Scorsese (who will be a fourth cycle Mentor), we had contacted some time ago. We try to maintain our network of people who have been suggested before and who were interested in participating. And we may go back to them later. We could say the Mentor selection process is always ongoing. For example, recently I sat at a dinner next to a quite well-known film director and I told him we would like him to be a Mentor some day, and he said he’d love to do it in the future . But then, of course, we have to go through our Advisory Board and they have to approve it.

Also, we have to make sure to have diversity. For example, for next year we have two women, and two Europeans, two Africans and two Americans. Unfortunately, we do not have any Asians, but at least we have to have a balance and a certain amount of mix. We can’t have all six Americans or all six men. So I need a certain amount of flexibility to put together that mix of Mentors.

In general, do the board members personally know the potential Mentors they recommend? I am asking this because the personality of a Mentor must be very important.
Yes, absolutely. That is the purpose of the Advisory Board. We have a whole series of criteria for Mentors. We invite artists who have international stature, have a body of work that is already considered to be enduring, and who are still creative, innovative and still actively working, are generous in spirit, articulate, and can relate to young people. When the board recommends Mentors, we discuss these criteria. It is quite fascinating to be part of this discussion. We tell them that these are all confidential conversations. The board members don’t necessarily make recommendations from only their own discipline but may also make recommendations for other disciplines. Some names are put forward by board members who are not in that discipline, but when another member knows the artist in question, that member might say, “He/She is a great artist but cannot communicate well with others. I don’t think he/she is the right person for this program.” That is why the board, which consists mainly of artists, also includes someone like the curator Maria de Corral, who works with a lot of artists and knows who is the right type of person. We really need both pieces of information: what they are like artistically and what it is like to work with them practically. These are obviously quite critical criteria.

Do you use a rotation system for board members?
Basically, the board changes with every cycle. We at Rolex assemble the board members each time through research and with information from past board members. We always make sure to have at least two board members in one discipline. (NOTE: as of November 2007, the total number of advisors is 53. See the complete list at: Sometimes a few board members eventually become Mentors. I would like to have former Mentors join the board, which I think can be quite useful – but it hasn’t happened yet. Sometimes members carry over to the next cycle. I am thinking about Michael Ondaatje, who has served as a board member for both cycles three and four. Since he could not physically attend the board meeting in Geneva for cycle three and only participated through a conference call, we invited him back for cycle four.

As we Nominators of the Protégés come from many places on the planet, we quite often “meet” via conference calls over a period of several months. How often do the Advisory Board members use meetings or conference calls to make a list of potential Mentors?
Each Advisory Board meets only once in Geneva. Advisory Board members have a much easier job than the Nominators. They only have to give us some suggestions of artists they recommend as Mentors, and meet to discuss the suggestions. Advisory Board members serve as volunteers and don’t get paid, while we pay Nominators because we know we ask them to do quite a demanding job (*).

about the Nominating Panel:
Each discipline has a Nominating Panel that consists of five to six experts whose responsibility is to identify and suggest a few Protégé candidates. The Nominators are selected based on recommendations from Advisory Board members and previous Nominating Panels, as well as Rolex’s own research. They are recruited to represent geographically diverse areas. For example, one Nominator from each continent (North and South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.) Taking into consideration what type of young artist the Mentor is seeking, each Nominator conducts a search over several months in his/her own region and nominates three to five names of young and talented artists. Since the Nominators remain anonymous, it is Rolex staff’s responsibility to contact each nominated artist to ask if he/she is interested in applying to the program. If the artist is interested, Rolex staff then collects the artist’s work samples and proposal, and duplicates these materials to distribute to each Nominator. Then the Nominators review this vast volume of material – dozens of DVDs if one serves on the theater or dance or film panel and 100 of pages of writing if they serve on the literature panel, etc. As the final step, the Nominators physically meet at a selected city to discuss the nominations and suggest a final short list (three to four names) of Protégé candidates. The Mentor is given the responsibility of selecting his/her Protégé from this short list.
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