Mentor & Protégé Arts Initiative
A modern office in Geneva, Switzerland may seem an incongruous place for those who rely on antiquity and personal relationships for inspiration. But to Rebecca Irvin, program director of Rolex’s Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative, the contradiction is easily reconciled. Rolex is a company committed to exploring “new frontiers”—even those distant in time. And, says Irvin, Rolex “has a long history of supporting visionary individuals.”
Irvin came to Rolex after a career as a radio journalist, during which she worked for the likes of Reuters and NBC. She also worked for the Red Cross. A dual citizen of Switzerland and the US, Irvin also completed studies at a music conservatory. She is passionate about the arts and about personally touching other people’s lives. This initiative is her way to embrace both.
In 2002, with the support of then-CEO Patrick Heiniger, Irvin conceived of and launched the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Says Irvin, “To our knowledge, ours is the only corporate program that invests directly in living artists, across six artistic disciplines and on a global scale.”
Each year, Rolex invites dance, film, literature, music, theater and art “mentors” to provide individual guidance to gifted young artists in a relationship that lasts one year. “We find the learning goes both ways,” asserts Irvin. “Our goal is to ensure that the world’s artistic heritage is passed on from one generation to the next. ”
The selection process is exacting. An advisory board selects mentors; nominating panels recommend protégés, who are invited to submit applications in their disciplines. Three finalists in each category are selected. “Rolex then arranges for the chosen mentor to meet the finalists and choose his or her protégé,” reveals Irvin.
Since inception, 29 mentors and protégés worldwide have participated. Luminaries from the past include Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and prominent contemporary artist John Baldessari.
2009’s protégés included Celina Murga (film), Nahuel Perez Biscayart (theater), Jason Akira Somma (dance), Masanori Handa (visual arts), Tara June Winch (literature), and Aurelio Martinez (music). Mentors include director Martin Scorsese, actress Kate Valk, choreographer Jiri Kylian, artist Rebecca Horn, writer Wole Soyinka, and singer Youssou N’Dour.
For Rebecca Irvin, who planned December’s dinner in London that concluded 2009’s program and for others involved at Rolex, one message is clear. “In today’s economic climate, it’s more important than ever that corporations help support the arts. Rolex believes in this,” she says. “We are committed for the long-term.”