7 minute read

The Silhouette Awards, an Awards Program with a Twist

Every day on my way to work, I pass by a work of art that always catches my eye. It is beautiful, yet simple. It is a series of interconnected poles, each one resting on and supported by another. Without its neighbors, each would fall to the ground. But together, they keep each other upright. The important truth distilled in this simple piece of artwork is that our personal and professional lives depend so much on the support and guidance of others. This is especially true for young professionals figuring out what to make of their careers and their lives. Every Plato needs his Socrates, someone to stoke the fire of creativity and passion within himself. Someone with real world experience who has navigated the challenges of professional life. Someone who can offer advice and guidance. A good mentor can make all the difference.

Merging Steel by Steve Benneyworth
Photo by Parker Allen

A strong belief in the importance of mentorship led Eve Gaut of Parrot PR and Marketing and Katia Kolovea of Archifos to create the Silhouette Awards in 2021. The goal of this global program is to “identify the rising stars of the lighting industry,” wherever they are, and support them as they grow their careers. The name might be a little misleading—it is not a traditional awards program. Rather than receiving a trophy or certificate, the winners are awarded with a 6-month mentorship with an industry leader. I have followed this program since this past January, when the inaugural winners were announced. Now that the first round of mentorships are wrapping up, I spoke with the mentors and mentees to find out how the program went. To my surprise, almost everyone I reached out to enthusiastically agreed to share their experiences.

Eve Gaut, Parrot PR and Marketing
Katia Kolovea, Archifos

The Process

When the Silhouette Awards began in the fall of 2021, Eve and Katia contacted twenty well-established and notable lighting professionals to serve as the inaugural mentors. They then opened up the program to applicants, who were asked to submit a 3-minute video in which they described themselves, their mentorship goals, and another passion outside the lighting industry. All videos were then reviewed by the mentors, who chose their top 20 out of a field of more than 50 submissions. They also picked their top 5 – the applicants who they felt they could help the most. Sam Koerbel, one of the mentors, emphasized how difficult this process was. “Everyone who applied was 100% qualified, so it was really about creating the right fit between the mentors and mentees.”

The winners and their mentors were announced at the end of January, with each mentor paired with a mentee in their top 5. Now, six months later, the mentorships have officially come to a close—though, as I found out, this is really just the beginning of these relationships.

The Mentorships

The first challenge these pairings faced was getting to know each other. Àfrica Sabé Dausà compared that first meeting with her mentor to a first date. Their initial meetings were dedicated to getting familiar and discussing interests. From that point on, there were very few rules or constrictions – the pairings were free to tailor their relationships and their time together to what best fit them.

Multiple participants highlighted the importance of timing. It began in late 2021, when the world was still experiencing the disruption of the pandemic. Though our shift to a more virtual world is advantageous in some ways, it also presents challenges. Conversations and connections can’t happen as organically as they used to—everything has to be scheduled. Want to talk about a new idea for a project? Let’s set up a Zoom meeting. The effect this has on young professionals, to whom forming connections and collaborations is vital, cannot be overstated. When she heard about the program, Gabi Kourac thought it was the perfect opportunity. “I needed a buddy,” she quipped. The Silhouette Awards provided this opportunity to form a personal and creative relationship with a fellow lighting enthusiast, one who the mentee would never have connected with otherwise.

The mentorships were not free from obstacles. Even the best made plans must change when real life gets in the way, whether it be a job change, a difficult project, a growing family, or a health issue. The starkest example of this was the pairing of Anna Sbokou and her mentee, Valeriya Gorelova, who is based in Moscow. They had barely begun their mentorship when the war in Ukraine erupted. All of a sudden, lighting took a backseat to much more pressing issues. The original vision for the mentorship changed dramatically, as they found themselves discussing backup plans rather than lighting design. However, there was a silver lining–Valeriya was given some time to evaluate the relationship with her partners, discuss marketing plans, and figure out what they need to have in-house. This was an opportunity that she wouldn’t normally have had.

One thing that stood out to me was how little of the relationship revolved around lighting design. Though lighting was the thread that tied this entire program together, both the mentors and mentees mentioned that few of their conversations were lighting specific. Many of the mentees came into the program with lighting careers already established, so much of the focus was on personal and professional development, on opening doors and inspiring new opportunities. As Iris Molendijk, a mentee, said, “The mentors don’t have to fill things in completely for you, but they can start the drawing and empower you to finish the sketch.”

Several of the participants were pleasantly surprised at the deep connection they formed with their partners. What started out as monthly meetings quickly evolved into regular texts and emails. Monica Luz Lobo, a mentor, stated that the most important thing she got out of the program was a new friendship—she and her mentee grew together, and now have a relationship that will last their entire lives.

The Future

The initial iteration of this program was wildly successful, but it will no doubt face some growing pains as it matures. One mentee mentioned that she would have liked some time to settle in and get to know her fellow mentees before the program began. The clock started when the winners were announced, and she wasn’t expecting to be a winner, so she was caught off guard and underprepared.

It is reasonable to expect that submissions will grow as more people learn about the program. Naturally, an awards program is selective, but there are many young talents that could benefit from a mentor. In the future, perhaps they will increase the number of mentors to accommodate all of the deserving applicants. Perhaps they will change the program from a set time period every year to a rolling basis so that young professionals are always being paired with a mentor.

Overall, the experiences of both the mentors and mentees were overwhelmingly positive. Some are planning on future collaborations. Others are planning to meet in person as soon as they have the opportunity. The mentors even created a WhatsApp group where they could all chat and share their experiences with one another as well as with the second round of mentors. A worldwide community of lighting professionals is forming around the Silhouette Awards. Every pairing that I spoke with is planning on staying in touch. That’s the sign of good pairings. That’s the sign of a good program. That is a program that is here to stay. ■

This story is from: