Rolex Celebrates 20 Years of Its Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative in Athens

Few brands are as synonymous with luxury as Rolex. The iconic watches are often featured in songs and film—from Jay-Z bragging about his “Rollie’s” tick-free design to Sean Connery’s James Bond wearing the timepiece in Dr. No, the arts have always had a love for the brand. And the feeling is mutual.

This year, Rolex is celebrating 20 years of its Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative that links up-and-coming artists with an expert in their discipline—and naturally, it did it in style with a massive commemorative multi-day festival.

Over the years, mentors like David Hockney, Brian Eno, Carrie Mae Weems, and Martin Scorsese have shared their knowledge and love for their work with their selected protégés. Through the mediums of film, visual art, music, architecture, theatre, dance, and literature, the next generation of creators have elevated their careers with the one-to-one mentorships.

The 2023-24 cohort sees five pairs, including the revered American singer Dianne Reeves with South Korean modern jazz performer Song Yi Jeon; and Booker Prize winner Bernardine Evaristo with emerging historical fiction writer Ayesha Harruna Attah, who have just set out on their mentorship journey.

In honour of the past and present relationships built through this initiative, Rolex and its artists took over Athens with a four-day pre-festival in May, featuring masterclasses, workshops, discussions, and rehearsals of performances at both public and private events.

For the big day, the festival had over 200 participants from both Greece and around the world, all gathered to celebrate the program’s achievements—and take in the fruits of the artists’ labour.

The day’s ceremony was directed by Dublin-based theatre artist Selina Cartmell and featured film screenings, theatrical presentations, architect showcases, literary tributes, and the premiere of ARTEMIS: Fountain by Peruvian composer Pauchi Sasaki, commissioned by Rolex Arts Festival and performed by members of the Greek choral ensemble CHÓRES at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre’s Dancing Fountains.

For Mariam Issoufou Kamara, the Nigerien architect who trained under David Adjaye in 2018-19 and founder of Atelier Masōmī, the mentorship felt like an equal partnership, a meaningful exchange between creators where they could both learn something from one another. Her mentorship with Adjaye—the Ghanaian-British architect whose notable designs are found around the world—allowed her to master her craft through a sharing of ideas, and throughout their time together, the support was ongoing.

“There wasn’t one single lesson [from Adjaye],” said Issoufou. “That’s the nice thing—they give it two years to travel, see each other’s work, to really absorb.” An important aspect for Issoufou was that the mentorship never forced Adjaye’s point of view on her work, but rather helped her hone in on her defined style.

“David just guided me through it, the way a teacher might review your work,” said Issoufou. “It was incredibly enriching.” Issoufou says one of the most inspiring features of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative was the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from artists from other mediums—both mentors and mentees.

“I’m very much inspired by literature, by cinema,” said Issoufou. “Some of the mentors in this program are people whose work has had very specific meaning to me since my teenage years. It’s really what makes this program unlike any other.”

While the festival has come and gone, the initiative continues to show the power of community, and that only through ongoing dialogues about curiosity, creativity, and communication can innovation in the arts be achieved.