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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“The Art of Survival”

The Art of Survival
Negar Mortazavi

“The Art of Survival” is an exhibition featuring photographs by Dottie Stevens, a College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) graduate and co-founder of the ARMS Center at UMB. Stevens began taking pictures for Survival News, an award winning news journal for, by, and about low-income women. Her photography documents women’s activism and the grassroots origins of the movement. Many times the women assembled in kitchens with their children as they strategize actions for social and economic justice.

Dottie Stevens and Diane Dujon, a current CPCS faculty member, got started as activists almost 25 years ago when they were students at UMB. The women started out as a resource for low-income students. Their mission was to keep the public properly informed about welfare and the experience of being poor in America. Stevens and Dujon also promoted the rights of poor women to obtain a college education because, “A college degree is a route out of poverty,” says Dujon. It wasn’t until Stevens began researching poor laws that she discovered that “being poor wasn’t my fault. It was the system.” From there, Stevens became outraged at the fact that “the system was designed to keep us poor” and the students began to rally for welfare reform, attending rallies around the country. Suddenly the cry became “Abolish Poverty Now!” and “Stop the War on Poor Women!” Stevens explained, “This was our way of fighting back.” Dujon further commented, “This country belongs to all of us. It is up to us to fight back!” In 1984, Stevens began photographing the rallies and demonstrations she attended.

Since Stevens graduated from UMB she has remained true to the CPCS mission to “educate students to foster the public good and aid the transformation to a more equitable society.” Stevens ran for Governor in 1990. She stated, “It’s the best way to create change if someone like me is in office.” Stevens explained that had she been elected Governor of Massachusetts, her purpose would have been to get the welfare benefits level at the poverty line. When Stevens began her activism, the welfare benefits level was 40 percent below the poverty line. Currently, it is 60 percent below. “It makes me feel like we don’t matter. They’ve created genocidal policies on us. It’s really a form of killing off a class of people. Our children are getting sicker and sicker. I thought we were supposed to be a civilized nation.”

Although she was unable to implement her plan of getting welfare benefits level at the poverty line, her photography has served to document the movement against poverty. Today, she is widely recognized as an accomplished photojournalist. In addition to appearing in Survival News, her photographs have been used in several textbooks. She has also appeared in Time magazine, has been asked for interviews by Good Morning America, Phil Donahue, and Sally Jessie Raphael. “It’s amazing,” stated Stevens, “all of a sudden I find out I am a photojournalist…all along I was just doing something I loved.” “The Art of Survival” will display many of the pictures that have appeared in Survival News throughout the past 20 years. The dramatic photographs are glossy black and white 8×10 prints. The black and white captures and reflects the dismal mood of what its like to suffer from poverty in the United States. Though Stevens, admits, “It was cheaper to print them in black and white,” she agreed that this cost-efficient decision worked in her favor.

“The Art of Survival” had its Opening Reception at Newbury College in Chestnut Hill commemorating Stevens work. Several members of the UMass Boston community appeared to show their support. Asjah Monroe, a UMB student, is currently the Survival Inc. club president, which works hand in hand with the ARMS Center. This year, Monroe plans on bringing life back into the programs Stevens and Dujon started up, recognizing that Stevens still “strongly holds true to her original purpose.” Monroe plans on reviving the breakfast programs for students on-campus with children, holding information workshops for low-income students, and on housing rights. “I am so honored to be working with these women,” stated Monroe. “They are so phenomenal. They’ve done it well for so long, just a handful of them.”

Stevens’ photography is on display at the Art Gallery at Newbury College through October 29. For more information, visit www.newbury.edu.