The Japan Foundation
Performing Arts Network Japan
Presenter Interview
The Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative, fostering encounters between artists across generations
While Rolex has promoted this program as international and emphasized diversity, some people have said that this program is very Western/American-centric, or Atlantic Ocean-centric based on the fact that the gala has always taken place in New York and having six disciplines is the Western convention. How do you react to those comments?
As for the six disciplines, the discussion has been ongoing with the Advisory Board and I think we are probably going in the direction of not having category-by-category selection in the future. We discussed whether we should have a multi-disciplinary category, and in fact, some artists could not be placed in any of the current categories. But we can’t be “all over the place.” You have to look at the practical aspects of running the program. For example, Wole Soyinka (from Nigeria), who is going to be the new literature Mentor, said that he could work with someone in English or even French or Spanish, and that he could mentor a writer of plays, poetry, novels and essays. This is a bit too wide-open. From the practical point of view of finding and selecting Protégés, you have to narrow it down. I think we have to be specific about some things.
Another issue may depend on the discipline. Take visual arts for example. Where is visual arts happening at the moment? It is very much in the U.S, to a certain extent in the U.K. or Germany, and now China is starting to come up. But if you ask people, “Who are the great artists who can serve as Mentors?”, it is likely that you will get American names. So that determines the debate a little bit.
At the moment, the Rolex program is certainly more based in Europe and America than, let’s say, Asia and Latin America. It’s more of an Atlantic program rather than a Pacific program. For the fourth cycle, we have two Mentors from America, two from Europe and two from Africa. Unfortunately, there is no Asian Mentor this year. It depends on the Advisors and Nominators. So, I think to get more influence of, let’s say, Asia, we have to get more Advisors and Nominators from Asia.

Related to the “Atlantic program” matter, I guess there is also an issue of the language barrier. When you select a Mentor, especially in theater and literature, do you consider the element of what language he or she speaks?
The answer is yes and no. In some disciplines, like dance, language is very relative. Former Dance Mentor William Forsythe felt the fact that his Protégé (Chinese Tibetan dancer) Sang Jijia did not speak English very well was an advantage in their creative exchanges! In literature and theater, on the other hand, a common verbal language is absolutely essential.
Moreover, there is an ideal world and there is a real world where you have to be practical. One of our board members once suggested a Hungarian writer. His work has never been translated into another language. He is apparently a wonderful writer, but how would he work with a Protégé? He speaks a little German, but that’s it. A pool of potential Protégés writing in Hungarian is.... well, who could be a Protégé? We once had a Chinese Mentor suggested but the person only speaks Chinese. That means that we would have to have a Chinese-speaking Protégé.
It is an interesting issue because this program is about exchanging across generations as well as crossing borders and cultures. We could make a political statement about diversity and inclusiveness, but what are we going to do with these cases? How do we make them happen? Fortunately, English is the language in which most people in the world, including in the arts, communicate. We are kind of stuck with this. It is not necessarily desirable, but it is just a reality.

What kind of professional career do you want the Protégés to have? It may be different depending on discipline, but....
I personally want the Protégés to have an impact on their fields, on their communities, and that they themselves will be able to be Mentors one day. Some of them have started their own mentorship programs in their home countries, though we don’t extend official support for such activities. They are Lara Foot Newton, theater Protégé in South Africa, and Junaid Jemal Sendi, dance Protégé in Ethiopia. Both of them were Protégés in the second cycle. Since they were so inspired by their own experience in the Rolex program, despite their young age, they thought it was time to become mentors themselves.

Can you tell me the project budget?
It is very difficult to aggregate the total investment Rolex makes in this project because we have the gala, events, publications, panels and a lot more. But in terms of “direct grants” and “direct expenses” for the project, it is about $700,000 in total. Each of the six Mentors gets $50,000, and each of the six Protégés gets $25,000 during the mentoring period. We give an additional $25,000 to each Protégé after the mentoring period is over, allowing them to put on performances, exhibitions and other public displays and such. For this, the Protégés have to submit proposals for these projects within two years after the mentoring period. Besides, we pay a lot of the Protégés’ living expenses and travel. Sometimes we pay the Mentors’ travel expenses if they want to see the Protégé’s work. Those are direct expenses.

I have finished all the questions I prepared. Is there anything you want to add?
This program is growing and deepening. The number of people who have actively participated in this project: Mentors and Protégés, Nominators like yourself and Advisors – total over 200 in the last five years. They are artists and artistic leaders from more than 40 countries. This is becoming an amazing community of artists from around the world.
The other thing I think is interesting is the connections that are being made. There are a lot of unexpected spin-offs that have been happening through the program. For example, Protégés are now getting to know each other, so we are hoping that they will think of crossing discipline borders and become interested in other art forms, moving across the different media.
And it has been a useful opportunity for the Nominating Panels, too, as you mentioned earlier. What is happening is that, even if young artists are not selected as finalists or as Protégés, they still come to the attention of the members of the Nominating Panels who learn about them. The Nominators are festival directors, presenters and curators – so one of them might say that although this young artist did not become a Protégé, I want to invite this person to participate in my festival. So the program actually helps all of the young artists who are nominated.

Yes, in fact, a theater company whose director was one of the artists I nominated two years ago drew the attention of one of my colleagues on the Nominating Panel, and this company was actually invited to her festival.
See. That’s exactly it, a very, very interesting spin-off.

Last question. When I served as a Nominator, I was told that we were all “secret” panels. Should I still keep it secret?
We wanted you to be anonymous when you were serving. But the period you served is over, so it is no longer a secret. Actually it would be a good introduction to the program if you would tell others that it was very interesting being on the panel, and that you learned something from the other nominators and learned about young artists whom you didn’t know.

All right, I will absolutely do so. Thank you so much for your time.
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