Providence Moms Blog continues our featured series “Moms in the Arts” with today’s feature on Hansy Better Barraza. Hansy’s resume is impressive; she is the Co-Founder and a Principal at Studio Luz Architects and the Co-Founder of BR+A+CE: Building Research+Architecture+Community Exchange. In addition, Hansy is also a professor of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where she served as the Graduate Program Director from 2014-2017. She is also the author of the book, “Where are the Utopian Visionaries? Architecture of Social Exchange.” Hansy manages to wear all these hats while parenting two children, six year old Aureilo and three year old Aires. She recently took time out of her busy schedule to chat with us about art, community service, and how she balances it all.
The field of architecture is traditionally male dominated. Have you found any particular challenges of being a woman and a mother in this field, and how do you navigate that?
I’m very conscious of it when I’m in these big corporate meetings that are very male dominated. I try to make sure that the care of my kids is under control so that I don’t have to leave the meeting. This under representation of women is already a negative for us, so I’m very conscious of that. In my office, I am a principle, so I am able to be much more flexible with my own time there. But when I’m out in the field professionally, I try to stay on task with what is in front of me. I want to make sure to represent women in terms of being a contributor to the profession and the discipline. I’m also a professor, and in my classroom I’m pretty much the same. I don’t mention my kids. However, I was a big advocate at RISD to make administrators aware that it was really important to have lactation rooms. That’s where I was more of an advocate, to push for those essentials that were really important that I didn’t have access to in 2010 when I had my son. Since then, with the help of others as well, our department has added lactation rooms.
Another challenge was that when I had my firstborn, the amount of time I was able to spend at the office shifted. It makes me happy to be able to do everything, but at the beginning I was driving myself crazy. It was a change to have to manage another human being as well. I realized if I still wanted to maintain the intensity of all the things I was passionate about, I needed help. You have to find a support mechanism that balances things out, whether it is help from your family or elsewhere. I think it’s important to let people know that things do shift, and it takes time to figure out. Don’t be afraid to ask how other moms do it.
How do you promote appreciation of art in your children’s lives?
I think it just comes naturally for me in terms of any activities that we do. We typically do activities first thing in the morning before school, a half hour to 40 minutes before we get out the door. We paint or work on models. My daughter generally paints, just because of her age and stage of development. Right now my son is working on modeling a car. In the past we have done a lot of plane modeling. I find that for us these types of activities are the easiest things to do in terms of having fun and getting them engaged with their hands. The way to promote art is always engagement with the hands. In our old house we had a door that my son could draw on. My friends thought I was crazy, but I said, “hey, you can just paint over it,” and he always knew that that door was a place where he could just draw whatever. In our new home, we have a table that we let our kids draw on with washable markers. In fact, they can just draw on any surface that’s washable.
I have a three and five year old, and I have to admit that it always feels like such a production to break out the art supplies. How important do you think it is that children are given regular access to be creative at home?
For parents who find it more daunting, like how some parents find cooking to be daunting, there are other ways to do it. Go to art museums. There are some art museums or art galleries that are not kid-friendly, but you can find fun art museums. There’s the Dr. Suess Museum and the Eric Carle Museum, for example. You can take the kids to museums that really allow for kids to engage and do activities. It doesn’t have to be these institutional art museums. You can also read to them about art and artists. Children are typically so curious. Even just walk the city or walk the neighborhood and talk about art; for example, “What color is that house? What makes the street vibrant?” Things like that.
Please help with my mom guilt: how much of their art am I allowed to throw away?
I was getting so much art home from my son. He’s six and that’s when it really starts coming home. It’s funny, we have two bins, a recycle bin and a trash bin, and one day my son caught his artwork in the recycle bin. He basically told me I was not allowed to throw away his art anymore. I had to ask him permission first. So now we have these awesome 14 inch tall by 30 inch wide magnetic boards we got from IKEA. We have several of them and we always put all the recent art from school on the board and constantly rotate it. The remaining art gets put in a bucket and I recycle it by turning it into birthday cards. When I don’t have time to have them make one, I let him choose which one he wants to give his friend and have him write his name on it. We try to find really creative ways to use the art instead of throwing it away.
As a busy mother who is pulled in many directions, why do you think it is important to prioritize the arts in my life and the lives of my children?
What’s nice about art is that it has many different forms. It’s an expression and a moment. You can do it with people, you can do it solitarily, but I would say it’s important to make time for yourself. It’s important to express yourself; anger or frustration or happiness, even if it’s through written form, that to me is art too. It’s almost theraputic to make time for yourself and time for self care. Just go with it.
Does your career as an artist and architect spill over into your home life in any particular ways? I’m imagining you having a meticulously decorated and appointed home. Any truth to that?
Our home is really, really precise and clean. When we moved three years ago, my husband and I decided in our new home we were going to commission work, whether from our friends or ourselves. The art that we put on our walls does not have to have value, but rather has to have an emotional tie. My daughter has a painting she did with her hands when she was one and we framed it in her room. Whether it is produced by our kids or friends who are artists, that is what we have in our home.
How do you find balance in your life?
Once a month I get together with a group of 11 or 12 other moms. We trade off who hosts and sign up six months in advance. We get together at night after our kids are asleep, we have drinks and food, and we talk about politics and how to serve our community. For me, this has been really fantastic as a support network.
You co-founded Brace with the aim of creating community spaces that “engage social, economic, and cultural issues that communities around the world face.” How do you see art and community service as connected?
What’s interesting about access to art is that typically the communities that need it the most, communities that are disenfranchised and economically depressed, are those that do not have public art. But what those communities do have are non-profit organizations. So Brace will find a non-profit that serves a particular community that we’ve identified and work with them to see how to bring public art to that area. We aim to expose people to art and will do activities for about a month during the summer. We first reach out to the community to see what is lacking. The art is mostly site specific installations, like large sculptures and mini playgrounds in the neighborhood. On our next project we will be with a group of students from Roger Williams University.
Brace was founded the same year my son was born and it’s been really wonderful to be able to engage the kids in “working” (but not really working) on these public art projects. We’re cleaning up public lots, and they’re learning how to clean up, help with flyers, and see what the artists are doing. This is another way in which art engages them with social justice. Bring them with you!
At Providence Moms Blog, we are passionate about the amazing multi-dimensionality of motherhood and aim to support mothers in their role as “mom” while encouraging them to honor all the other aspects of their identity. We believe that the arts are an essential part of what makes us human and encourage all moms to make the arts a part of their own and their children’s lives. We are proud to partner with Rhode Island School of Design’s Continuing Education Program for this series.
RISD Continuing Education educates students of all ages in art and design with high quality, accessible programs, courses, lectures and workshops. Fall courses begin September 11; late-starting courses and weekend workshops offered throughout the fall.
RISD CE offers courses for adults in the fine and applied arts and design at beginning, intermediate, and advanced levels. You’ll find a range of options to explore the world of art and design and RISD’s flexible course schedules meet the needs of today’s adult learners and their busy lifestyles. Options include 3-hour and weekend workshops, 6-12 session courses, and full certificate programs.
RISD’s Young Artist Program (ages 6-17) helps students make their mark as they create, build, make, and dream big through courses in 2D, 3D, digital art and design, as well as STEAM courses.
Saturday courses are offered year-round, and week-long vacation camps are offered in the winter, spring, and summer. Teens can enroll in one of four certificate programs to broaden their skills or prepare for a future in art and design.