The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, fostering encounters between artists across generations
Why does only the music discipline recruit musicians, who are interpretive artists, while artists in all other genres are all creative artists: visual artists, theater directors, choreographers, filmmakers, writers? For the sake of consistency, shouldn’t the music discipline have select composers rather than musicians or conductors of Western classical music?
Well, in contrast to this, the next music Mentor, Youssou N’Dour (from Senegal), is really about both creating and interpreting. He writes a lot of his own works and he is interested in working with young composer-instrumentalists. In music we are getting away from classical music and more towards world music and new forms.
Talking about creating as opposed to interpreting, in the dance discipline, Mentors have told us that they were interested in dancers who want to become choreographers. They said they can’t really teach choreography because you just learn it as you are doing it. So I don’t think it’s really fair to say there is a dichotomy between the creative and the interpretive.

Actually some people suspect that the reason why composers are not in the music discipline is probably because the general public cannot recognize even the most established composers’ names. They are not as well known as established choreographers such as Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker or William Forsythe. Although the Mentor and Protégeé program’s purpose is purely the support of the arts and artists, Rolex as a company still needs to make an effective impact with the general public by involving big names, with hopes that the brand image will be even more enhanced.
I see you are talking about the celebrity status of the artists involved. It’s a mix. Let’s take the choice of Kate Valk as a theater Mentor in the next cycle. She is a lead performer of the Wooster Group in downtown New York. The Wooster Group is well known, but how many people are familiar with her name? She is a kind of insider’s choice. She has chosen to avoid celebrity: she doesn’t do film or commercial production, she just works for the Wooster Group. But people on our board told us that she was the most fabulous actress in America today and was hugely respected by artists and insiders. Obviously, Martin Scorsese (as a film Mentor also in the next cycle) is very different.
Also, in our inaugural cycle, in architecture we had Alvaro Siza as a Mentor. Unless you are an architect you wouldn’t necessary know who he is. In the same year, we had Toni Morison in literature, and she is a household name.
So, it is not fair to say we only go for really big-name celebrities. We have been trying to mix people from inside choices and big names.

Does this program have any specific criteria to evaluate the results?
No, we don’t. The Advisory Board’s main job is to recommend and help us to recruit Mentors. But we also consult them generally on the program. We ask them about things like whether we should have a multi-disciplinary category; should we insist that the Mentor still be active and working. One of the most important questions for me in the last board meeting was whether we at Rolex should be more ambitious in terms of results and output of the program. Should we require, for example, that the Protégeé completes a project during the mentoring year? Or, should we have some sort of benchmarks? But in the last meeting the Advisory Board said, “No, don’t do that. What you are doing is great. You won’t know for ten years what the real impact of this has been.” So we don’t actually evaluate. Even with the first group, it has been five years but it is still too early to know what the impact is.

When the program was started, did Rolex set any time frame? For example, did you say that at least you should continue this program for a certain number of years, or that you should stop after, say, five cycles and then review it to make necessary changes and/or adjustments?
No, we will have to see. I think it is too early for this Mentor and Protégeé project to make any major changes. For the future, we are going to continue doing what we have been doing since the first year. I can tell you that the Rolex Awards for Enterprise program, for example, has been around for 30 years. Now, after 30 years, we are saying, “OK, should we continue, or should we do something different?” And we are going to change it slightly at the end of 2008.
Rolex is over 100 years old and it has been an extremely successful brand. Patrick Heiniger is only the third CEO in the history of the company. So what is interesting in Rolex is that we do things more long-term. For us, five years is not really enough. We could look at something after 20 or 30 years and then say, “OK, what should we do? Does this make sense? Should we go on?” So you see, it is a very different time frame. There is longevity and continuity. If you are a privately held firm like this, you can do things really in medium to long term. And you have staying-power to build on something long term. I am sure that at some point, maybe after ten years, we will look at what we are doing, where we are going and decide whether this is good or not.
But, it already is changing. For example, there is the case of the “Rolex Arts Weekend,” (taking place on the weekend previous to the gala in New York). We had six events (in several venues in Manhattan, where current and previous Protégeés’ works were publicly performed, exhibited, read and screened) plus the symposium. This is the first time that we’ve done something like this. Two years ago we did a mini version of this program at Columbia University, aimed mainly at students. I would say the public outreach and educational aspects of the program are growing. So that’s changing. But at the moment, I think as far as Rolex is concerned, we are meeting so many interesting people, helping people, and creating a lot of good will for the company in an unprecedented way.
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