Designer who makes products out of prawn waste among winners of £10,000 prize

A designer who makes products out of prawn waste and shellfish sugar is one of the winners of an arts prize.

Rhea Thomas, who describes herself as a climate innovator, was among the five recipients of the £10,000 Arts Foundation Futures Awards fellowship on Wednesday at the Southbank Centre, London.

A further 15 shortlisted artists will also be given £1,000 – bringing the total amount awarded in 2024 to £65,000.

Thomas, who makes fertilising seed trays, called Seasprout, from prawn leftovers and the food packaging material Shrimpak made from Chitosan – a sugar derived from the outer skeleton of shellfish, won the regenerative design award.

Seasprout by Rhea Thomas
Seasprout by Rhea Thomas (Arts Foundation/PA)

The Royal College of Art and Imperial College London graduate, who lives and works across London, India, New York, and Japan, is part of the World Design Organisation and has been recognised by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as a goalkeeper due to her sustainable development work.

Jury member Mirella Di Lorenzo, professor of biochemical engineering at Bath University called Thomas’ work “compelling” due to its “rigour and presentation”.

“Rhea has a really strong understanding and was able to articulate very clearly the environmental and social benefits of her design interventions,” she added.

Also getting a £10,000 prize was Daniel Casimir, a Hayes-based composer, producer and bassist, for jazz composition; Londoner Cherish Oteka for short documentary film; Tatenda Shamiso for theatre writing and Rebecca Bellantoni for visual art.

British Academy Film Awards 2022 – Press Room – London
Gamal Turawa with Cherish Oteka, who also received a £10,000 award (Ian West/PA)

Mary Jane Edwards, director of The Arts Foundation said: “From blending jazz with classical music, making regenerative seed trays, to telling important stories about identity and place – the creative ingenuity, determination and focus of the Arts Foundation Futures Awards Fellows never ceases to amaze us.

“The UK is host to so many extraordinary artistic practitioners, but as a result of over a decade of austerity measures, I think the arts and cultural sector is starting to ask itself important questions about how to best support independent artists and freelancers.

“We’re really proud to have been championing this area of work and supporting the livelihoods of creatives for over 30 years. We have no doubt all the artists and fellows will have a significant impact on our shared cultural life.”

Oteka won a Bafta for best short film in 2022 for The Black Cop, about a former Metropolitan Police officer’s experience on the force, and has finished shooting her first feature-length documentary about the Gay Games, which focuses on the athletes, artists, and advocates involved.

The Writers Guild Awards 2019 – London
The Arts Foundation event featured a welcome address from British playwright Roy Williams (Ian West/PA)

Jury member Clare Sillery, BBC head of commissioning for documentaries, said: “In Cherish Oteka I think we have found, a compelling and visionary documentary filmmaker.

“As a self-starter who already produces and directs their own work, we are thrilled to fuel Cherish’s focus and fire as an outstanding creative practitioner.”

London-based writer, director, theatre-maker and musician Shamiso recently won the emerging talent award at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards 2023 for No I.D., a performance about a Black transgender immigrant, at the Royal Court and is working on two new plays while developing a television adaptation of his solo show.

Artist Bellantoni, also London-based, has performed a rose-inspired performance at the Tate Britain in London and was the winner of the Womxn of Colour Art Award in 2022.

The Arts Foundation event also featured a welcome address from British playwright, Roy Williams, known for co-writing the sports film Fast Girls, and the premiere of John Barber’s new choral composition, F***/Dystopian Loneliness.

The body has been awarding artists prizes, across different disciplines, since the early 1990s.