By Lieutenant Colonel Wendy Faux

ASK people about the relationship between the Army and the arts and many will think of the paintings of historical battles that hang on gallery walls. But it extends much further and deeper – a prime example is Army@TheFringe. which we have run in association with Summerhall since 2017.

It enables performing artists to present shows that raise issues about life in and out of uniform, and normally takes place at the Hepburn House drill hall which we transform into an Edinburgh Fringe venue.

As head of the arts for the Army (perhaps you didn’t know we had one) I believe it’s essential for us to work with, and support, independent artists. In fact, it’s more important now than ever given the number and scale of concerns we all face in today’s world, from racism and inequality to love, hate, peace and war.

The arts have an unrivalled capacity to make us think and feel about our world – what it was like in the past, how it is now and where it’s heading. By encouraging us to ask questions of ourselves, and others, they can promote debate and lay the foundations for positive change.

When Covid-19 forced the cancellation of the Fringe we decided to move online and refocused in order to offer some support to the artists we were already working with and to the wider performing arts sector. The result is Army@TheVirtualFringe – three weeks of free screenings, workshops, rehearsed readings, discussions and live-from-home performances.

Some give a foretaste of productions we aim to stage next year. But many will see writers, performers, set designers, photographers, musicians and others sharing ideas and expertise with performing artists hoping to put on shows elsewhere at the Fringe – or indeed anywhere.

With the mountainous difficulties faced by the sector right now we hope this kind of skills sharing will contribute to the efforts so many people are making to help the performing arts rebuild. And for the public we hope that what we are offering will, alongside other recently announced initiatives, provide some continuity and fill a little of the gap left by the absence of the Fringe.

We also want to give something back to an arts community which has shown so much interest in Army@TheFringe and has come to us with productions of the quality of 5 Soldiers, The Troth and Unicorns, Almost.

As a photographer myself I try to capture images that have an authenticity and express something new or different about people or situations. That’s very much the essence of Army@TheFringe and other initiatives through which the Army engages with the arts. They support work that is powerful, informed and independent.

In some cases they do that by inviting artists who want to create work about the Army to come “behind the wire” and give them access to the kind of people and experiences that interest them.

At other times they provide a showcase for veterans who now work in the arts and whose work reflects lived experience.

Both result in an authenticity that make productions all the more affecting and persuasive whether they are addressing how families cope with death or injury, the courage of gay soldiers in coming out, women’s struggle for equality or the experiences of black and overseas personnel.

The result is agenda-setting art that asks tough questions about our lives and our Army – something that matters greatly for a healthy, open society.