A few weeks ago, I wrote about our recent tour of the Mauthausen concentration camp (if you missed it, you can find it here). In the visitor’s center at the end of the tour, a particular exhibit caught my eye. It described a baby named Hana, who was – miraculously – born in the camp shortly before its liberation. Because Hana was so young at that time, I wondered if she was still alive, and I made a mental note to research it when I got back home.

What I found was that not only did she survive, there were actually 3 babies born around that same time! Wendy Holden wrote a book about the three “miracle” babies, entitled Born Survivors, a fascinating account of their lives and the lives of their incredibly determined mothers. In the book, Holden also describes the friendship that has grown between the three survivors.

The three young mothers recount, in great detail, their time in the ghettos and later, the camp(s) – their surroundings, their experiences, and their moment-by-moment struggle to survive. What was so surprising, to me, was that despite their horrific living conditions, the prisoners went to great lengths to express their creativity.

In the book, Holden writes, “In spite of their worsening situation, or perhaps because of it, the remaining inmates created a rich artistic life within the ghetto walls.” Children and adults were encouraged to engage in artistic pursuits, such as art, poetry, music and dance. The prisoners staged mini-exhibitions, musical reviews, and concerts, even if they had to beg, borrow, or steal supplies. It was almost as if their lives – their very souls – depended on it, in much the same way as their bodies depended on food for survival. As proof, tickets to some of these shows were in such demand that people actually traded precious food items to secure one.

Even today, programs that bring creativity to prison inmates – like California’s Arts-In-Corrections program – have been shown to reduce disciplinary reports, increase involvement in academic and vocational programs, and decrease stress. They give prisoners a means to reflect on their lives and express emotions that were previously inaccessible. Claire Schwadron, Project Youth ArtReach director, believes that these programs offer a reminder about what connects us as human beings.

Unfortunately, budget cuts often spell disaster for the Arts. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that after a highly successful 30-year run, California’s program was discontinued in 2010 due to a lack of funding (wouldn’t it be ironic if funding was diverted to build more prisons?)

In an earlier blog about creativity, I explored the idea that humans are instinctively creative beings, designed that way on purpose in order to express our innate Divinity. These examples clearly illustrate the importance of creativity on our mental health. Even in the most dire circumstances, we have a deep need – almost a longing – to express our creativity.

If creativity has the power to draw people together, heal emotional wounds, and decrease violence, perhaps we should explore ways to encourage creative endeavors, particularly in our schools. Young people who are provided with a creative outlet are less likely to end up as inmates, less likely to suffer from mental health issues that ultimately affect us all.

Rather than decrease funding for the Arts, we need to protect this valuable asset! It’s a matter of life and death!

Featured Photo courtesy of Cosmic Clay Studios.

Written by : drallisonbrown

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16 Comments

  1. Sara October 9, 2017 at 3:10 am - Reply

    Oh, what an interesting story. Art or the expression of it is important for our health (physical and mental).
    In psychiatric hospitals, art therapy is sometimes the only means of communicating with a patient who is so out of touch with reality.
    It can break down walls and can give a person something to work toward – which gives them value – something to offer others (and themselves).
    Sad, isn’t it? No budgets for P.E. no budgets for art, music, etc.. The very things that can help relieve the problems of “overcrowded” prisons.

  2. Jill October 9, 2017 at 9:17 am - Reply

    I’ve heard this “created to create” type of theory before. It really has a ring of truth to it. I feel best when I am creating something. Good post.

    • drallisonbrown October 9, 2017 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Jill! When we follow our bliss, we find our truth. Your good feelings are speaking Truth to your soul!

  3. Inez October 9, 2017 at 11:38 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing. I’m curious about the three survivors. I’ll find time to read about them.

    Inez | My Small World

    • drallisonbrown October 10, 2017 at 4:42 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Inez. It was a great book!

  4. Louis Colombarini October 10, 2017 at 9:11 am - Reply

    Allison we’re so delighted to become avid readers of your more recent blogs.
    I was about to get into a major rant here, however, suffice it to say you’re spot on.
    Art needs to be incorporated in all aspects of life and less attention to sports.
    Which at very young age can cause long lasting brain damage from concusions.The arts create a more well rounded individual using more parts of the brain which can otherwise remain stifled.

    • drallisonbrown October 10, 2017 at 4:41 pm - Reply

      Thank you for sharing, Louie! I appreciate you sharing the viewpoint of an artist.

  5. Ellen Best October 12, 2017 at 6:55 am - Reply

    An interesting post, I didn’t know about the babies and will be back to read more of you writing. #ThrowbackThursdsy has been g+

  6. Angela Noel October 12, 2017 at 7:33 am - Reply

    Hi Allison. I had no idea about the babies born in concentration camps, and the efforts at creative expression within. It gives me chills to think of the will to survive and how art played a role in helping fuel their spirits. Any artist or creative would read that art improves outcomes for prison inmates, nod their heads and say, “of course it does.” Art is fundamentally a social act. It’s meant to be shared. It says, “I see you and you see me.” Isn’t that fundamentally what we all want and need–to be seen and known?

    • drallisonbrown October 12, 2017 at 12:59 pm - Reply

      Yes, Angela, thank you for highlighting that point. Not only is it critical to our souls to create simply for the sake of creating, but as you point out, it is also a way to celebrate our human-ness and bond socially through the sharing of our emotions (expressed through our creations).

  7. Diana October 12, 2017 at 12:01 pm - Reply

    I find it amazing that in a world were innovation and outside of the box thinking is celebrated, we can not figure out that it is creativity that must be encouraged at a young age in order to manifest these new worlds. A very thought provoking post. Thank you

    • drallisonbrown October 12, 2017 at 12:55 pm - Reply

      Diana, to me, it seems like around age 5 (school age) we start training our kids how to live inside the box! Sit still, be quiet, be average…

  8. ActualConversationsWithMyHusband October 12, 2017 at 3:39 pm - Reply

    I was lucky enough to attend a school with a thriving music and arts program, and I’ve prioritized that for Offspring (who is also attending a school where they still offer such things). But I know that’s what we are: lucky. I have friends who teach music and theater; they struggle every year to defend what they do, how it matters, to a board that truly believes the One Path For Success is to cut “frivolous nonsense” and churn out class after class of engineers and programmers. It’s frustrating for those of us who understand how vital art is, especially for a developing human brain, to have to argue its merit.

    • drallisonbrown October 12, 2017 at 9:43 pm - Reply

      You hit the nail right on the head! That’s exactly what happens in most school districts. We also have an Arts magnet school, but the Arts should be for ALL students!

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