Entrepreneurial Stories: DIVERSION UK

About me

My name is Valentina. I was born in Colombia, grew up in Peru, and moved from the UAE to the UK in 2017. I am an early-career, first-generation immigrant artist in this country.

I am also a brown, queer, and female. I am by many accounts a minority. For the past eight years, I have lived away from my family and the country where I grew up. Everything that comes with this, from education opportunities, scholarships, visa applications, a bilingual lived experience, as well as a constant sense of dislocation perpetuated by microaggressions, has cemented my identity as an ‘other’.

I recently completed my Master’s in Performance Practice as Research at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. During this program, I developed a practice of bilingual and dislocated storytelling, a way of sowing the different pieces of my identity together through performance. This experience, along with my desire to produce my own work in London, has prompted my thirst for a community of immigrant artists within the arts world in the UK. Through DIVERSION UK, I seek peers and mentors; fellow immigrant artists looking for ways to speak up, be visible, and gain some real estate in the artistic landscape of this city.


DIVERSION UK is a Social Enterprise invested in building community across cultural borders by supporting, mentoring, and connecting early-career immigrant artists and their work. In its early stages, DIVERSION UK will focus on workshops, networking events, and 1:1 mentoring programs.

For the time being, we are meeting in pubs, making friends, and dreaming together. We are just starting, but we have plans to stay, to gain leave to remain in this rainy hostile environment. Sign up to our newsletter, tweet at us with details about your upcoming work, and join us at one of our pub meets!

About this place

Right now in the UK, The shifting political climate within Europe and the world have brought to the forefront issues of race, immigration, and borders. Rightly so, this has been reflected in arts programming and funding trends in the UK.

Within larger London, arts venues and arts organisations are prioritising migrant, refugee, and underrepresented minority art. Programming that foregrounds work by for Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic, and Refugee playwrights, highlights the sector’s commitment to tackling the lack of diversity in early career artists that are able to sustain artistic careers in this country.

Beyond the performing arts, cultural items such as the crowd-sourced essay anthology, The Good Immigrant, organisations such as Counterpoints Arts, and spaces such as the Migration Museum are just a few examples of the large community of first and second-generation immigrants that exists in the arts and cultural realms of the UK.

There is a present and growing demand for the voices of immigrants and minorities to be heard in schools, small performance venues and theatres, artistic institutions, and the larger arts community in the UK. It is within these trends that DIVERSION UK begins to grow as a hub for art made by and for immigrants.

Some bullet points

As we stand today, our aims are:

  • To provide visibility to young immigrant artists at the start of their career

  • To empower immigrant artists to produce their own work

  • To provide spaces and structures for networking between immigrant artists in order to foster collaboration and support systems

  • To encourage and foster mentorship of young immigrant artists by artists, venues, and organisations in the industry

  • To provide support and advice on all the elements of a young immigrant artist’s career from the aspects of artistic production to visa-related issues

  • To advise institutions on how they can further the above aims as part of their own programming

About the name

When it came to name my project, I was looking for a name that worked in different languages, especially in Spanish, my mother’s tongue. I was also looking for something that stemmed out of my own practice as a performer, and something that spoke to the constant feeling of displacement that I feel as an immigrant.

In that context, I remembered Jens Haaning’s sound installation Turkish Jokes. In it, a loudspeaker attached to a pole in the middle of Oslo’s Turkish neighbourhood broadcasts jokes in Turkish. As pedestrians walk by, Turkish immigrants become visible as they laugh, a communal experience within a displaced environment, a sense of home away from home. Haaning’s is a work in visibility, in the performativity of migration, and in the invisibility of bilingualism. For me, it is a reminder that the reality of Spanish, and of my mother, is inescapable, no matter how many routes I take to divert myself from it, no matter how many English words I learn. I will always be caught off guard by a Spanish word, a phrase, a joke, a song.

I thought of Haaning’s work because it reminded me of when I first arrived in London and kept running into the big yellow signs that say DIVERSION. I would walk by them, hear the announcement on a bus ‘this bus is now on a diversion’ and people would be terribly disappointed. I would giggle to myself, thinking how diversion means fun in Spanish. How fun it was for me, to be in on the secret, to silently know that we were about to go on an unexpected journey, on a road not taken, on a longer route beyond our control, on a forced migration.

In the end, we divert because we have to, and here’s hoping that we have a little fun while we’re at it.




Valentina Vela




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