Massee Arts Grants

Fungi are essential to life on earth, yet many people are unaware of their importance or know little about them.  The mission of the British Mycological Society is to promote fungal science and we recognise that art, in all its forms, provides a powerful route through which we can attract new audiences, provoke discussion and stimulate interest in mycology. 

George Edward MasseeThe Massee Arts Grant is named after George Edward Massee, who became the first President of the British Mycological Society following its foundation in 1896.  Massee was an artist whose paintings attracted the attention of M.C. Cooke, Head of Mycology at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew,  leading to the recognition of Massee's work as a mycologist.  

The Massee Arts Grant provides funding of £10,000 per annum (up to a maximum of £5000 per project) to support artists from all disciplines whose work helps encourage all sectors of society to engage and learn about the wonderful world of fungi.

Massee Arts Grants are awarded annually.

Massee Arts Grants awarded in 2024

We received a much greater number of grant applications than anticipated this year: 454 in total, from across the globe! Thank you to all who applied, and to our panel of reviewers: Michael Archer; Cameron Diekonigin; Léonie Hampton; Geoffrey Kibby; Janet Quinn; Mark Ramsdale (panel chair). Two grants have been awarded:


Walking with Mushrooms

Sarah Nicholls and Seb Bacon Sarah Nicolls is a world-leading concert pianist (called an “edgy Brit” by The Guardian) and runs arts and ecology residencies on her farm in Gloucestershire. Sarah is currently supported by Innovate UK’s Women in Innovation programme in her quest to develop a lightweight vertical grand piano which enables new sounds to be found. She has performed on five continents and has composed her own music since 2005. She is also working to increase biodiversity and habitat on her land in Stroud and makes shows about the environmental pressures of our day.

Seb Bacon is a data engineer and fungus enthusiast. He leads the team at the University of Oxford which generated the first global insights into Covid-19 at the start of the pandemic, using 58 million patient records. In his spare time, he generates data-driven insights for community projects. He is also a mushroom fanatic, frequently leading his children through thickets and up hillsides to spot the latest Gloucestershire and beyond mould, mushroom, fungus.

“We are absolutely thrilled to have been awarded a Massee Arts Grant by the BMS. We will be connecting software, data, AI, and musical composition using sounds from the inside of the piano to create immersive sound walks where people can learn about the magic of fungi in their local area."

About Sarah and Seb's project

The majority of common knowledge or interest in fungi is around the 'charismatic' or edible fungi such as Amanita muscaria or Boletus edulis. However, there are fascinating stories to tell about the lesser known groups such as rusts, lichens, and ascomycetes, and fungi that are more commonly found in urban or household settings such as Peziza species.

We will use Artificial Intelligence and music in a sound walk that teaches people about mushrooms in an interactively generating, data-driven and immersive artistic experience that is personalised to their location. For each 1km zone of Britain we will generate narrated audio that is unique to that zone to tell stories and share facts about the most-reported fungi in each individual's area, blending these with more general stories about non-charismatic fungi. The sound track wil be composed using a neighbour-sensing mathematical model of hyphal growth as an inspiration.

The musical content of the piece will be created by Sarah on her unique Inside-Out Piano, an extraordinary re-shaped piano which enables Sarah to play the strings as well as the keys. This means other-worldly sounds are combined with piano melodies to create astonishing textures and colours, fit to match the incredible world of fungi. A combination of creativity, environmental passion and interest in technology will see her responding to the data in a multitude of ways.

Fungi Sessions: Give Voice

Hannah ReadHannah Read is an award winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, singer and composer. Born and brought up in Scotland and now based in Northern California, her music straddles both sides of the Atlantic. Equally at home improvising on fiddle, playing Appalachian old-time music or delivering finely wrought original songs, she is an artist that gets equal thrill touring as an International band leader, as well as a collaborative side-musician.

"Wow, I am absolutely delighted to receive this news. What a great honour to be a recipient of the 2024 Massee Arts Grant! Looking forward to diving into writing, arranging and recording this album of new original fungi-inspired music."


About Hannah's project

Reflecting my own emerging understanding of the significance of fungi and fungal science, Give Voice will be a new composition that aims to stimulate widespread interest in the importance, ingenuity and beauty of fungi.

I will create a new musical work, specifically to be performed in natural outdoor settings, interpreting and vocalising new time-lapse videos of mycelium and fungal growth captured by mycologists Pat Hickey and my late father (Nick Read). Give Voice will be designed to be performed whilst the videos are projected onto a woodland backdrop. The natural setting provides an opportunity to highlight the subterranean network of fungal activity and the roles that fungi play in the woodland ecosystem.

Give Voice will be created in an intuitive free-form approach where I will compose the music whilst watching and absorbing the video footage. This will include interpretation in nature-based settings, enhanced by my awareness of the underlying fungal activity. The use of voice, in particular, will help articulate and enhance interpretation of the video images. further facilitated by collaboration with novel instrumentation.  I will be collaborating with renowned environmental sound designer and percussionist Charles Van Kirk, to weave in the sounds of field recordings created specifically for this project.

Alongside collaborating musicians, I will perform against or alongside a backdrop of projected videos.  Some performances will include conversation on my own journey with fungal science and how I have interpreted the videos.


Portrait photograph: Samuel James Taylor.