In Collaboration with Encore Community Services, Flags Take Over Times Square on Flag Day, June 14, 2021
(New York, NY — June 7, 2021) — Times Square Arts is pleased to present How I Keep Looking Up: Flags of Resilience by the organization’s inaugural public artist-in-residence Christine Wong Yap. In collaboration with Encore Community Services, a support program based in Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen that provides meals and social services to elderly New Yorkers, the public art project will be ceremonially unfurled on Flag Day, June 14, 2021, in Times Square. How I Keep Looking Up explores resilience through collaborative art making, resulting in an installation of colorful flags that symbolize individual seniors’ stories of perseverance, on view through August 9, 2021.
To develop the installation, Wong Yap has worked side-by-side with eleven Encore seniors through art-making workshops to design flags that represent personal stories about coping through adversities. Seniors reflect on questions like: Where does your resilience come from? How did you learn to cope? What did you learn about the world while facing challenges? In an effort to activate the wider Times Square community, the flag fabrication will also engage local stitchers and costumers in the theater community, another group that has been particularly vulnerable during the pandemic with the closure of Broadway and other performance spaces. The local stitchers include Victor Carvajal, Gabrielle Cryan, Sandra Frye, Sarah Highers, Aislinn Smith, and Tian Thoon.
“Working with the seniors to create this project has been a wonderful experience. Their stories and interests communicate the vibrancy and resilience of Times Square and New York City in general, and I hope that visitors feel this sense of connection to the city, especially after such a difficult year. I’m also grateful to Encore Community Services and Times Square Arts, whose knowledge of the district has been instrumental in bringing this public art project to life,” said Christine Wong Yap.
Throughout the development of the project, senior New Yorkers have shared moving stories that celebrate their victories, moments of comfort, and happiness they have found throughout the challenges of the past year. Many seniors’ flags commemorate their pets, who have stood by their side during isolation, or recount a difficult time in their life that led them to develop strength and adversity.
Christine Wong Yap is the first artist chosen for the organization’s public artist-in-residence program of its kind, an experimental and collaborative model that responds to the uniqueness of Times Square and its public art program by pairing socially engaged artists with Times Square’s massive network of businesses, nonprofits, hotels, restaurants, and people.
“Through this work with both seniors and stitchers, Christine is forging new intersections of community here in Times Square and memorializing the vulnerability and celebrating the strength that marks this moment in time for our city and its people. Her collaboration with Encore is modeling the ways in which artists can be powerful navigators of the challenges we are all facing right now, and Times Square as a dynamic space for that work,” said Times Square Arts Director Jean Cooney.
To celebrate the opening of How I Keep Looking Up, Times Square Arts, Christine Wong Yap and the seniors will unveil their flags on Flag Day, June 14 at 11AM. If you are interested in attending and covering, please email Catie DeWitt (firstname.lastname@example.org).
PARTICIPATING SENIORS AND FLAG DESIGNS
“Marriage is the whole package—good and bad days. My husband was sick for 25 years. I found help in friends, work, social workers, a therapist, and my congregation. Nothing is forever. I learned that I’m strong, smart, and teachable. I choose to listen to and learn from others. In my flag, the jagged lines and waves represent my struggles for survival. Purple stands for my royal person and beliefs. Green represents life’s abundance of choices. Yellow is the air of peace that I pursue. The bird is me, chasing the butterflies of hope, royalty and respect, and love and faith.”
José Rosabal (85)
Upper West Side, Manhattan
“I’m an abstract painter, textile designer, political asylee, and one of two surviving members of the Cuban avant-garde collective Los Diez Pintores Concretos. When I immigrated to the U.S. in 1968, I left behind my mom and brother. I adapted to a new culture and language. I created a flag with geometric shapes, because geometric forms are universal. The colors in my flag have many meanings: blue for sky, red-orange for freedom, black and white for grieving. The white field gives a sense of space. When people look at my flag flying, I want them to see liberty and happiness.”
“When I was a child, a relative told me I would never amount to anything. This hurt and I never forgot it. But I surrounded myself with positive people, read about releasing pain, and devoted myself to my studies, earning a BFA and Master’s degree. I worked as a fashion stylist and in special education. I felt fulfilled with love, compassion, and gratitude. In my flag, the branch represents the anxious, unhappy past. The eagle is me—forgiving, aiming high, and proving to myself that, ‘Yes, I can.’ I’m eternally grateful for the support I found in my studies and groups.”
“I needed emergency surgery at age three and then again as a young woman when I lost a pregnancy. I couldn’t get pregnant again. All that makes me sad sometimes. When I feel low, I keep my spirits up by walking. Just by walking I can go from one place to another and from one mood to another. The orange and blue stripes in my flag play against each other similar to how the harder and easier times in life meet. The yellow line is a walking route and a reminder that I can always look up.”
Peter Gallinari (73)
“At eight years old, I immigrated from Germany to a neighborhood in Brooklyn. The neighborhood kids picked on me and beat me up. To survive, I learned English, changed my accent to sound less German and more “Brooklyn,” and made jokes. I became a New Yorker and my tormentors lost interest. Life taught me to be an actor. After retiring from the NYC Sanitation department, I acted in films, television and on Broadway as Peter Linari. On my flag, the Brooklyn Bridge spans the old country to the new world. It’s framed by stage curtains representing my acting career.”
Upper West Side, Manhattan
“Change happens in life. My husband had an accident resulting in traumatic brain injury and depression. I was his caregiver for over sixteen years before he passed away. To treat my own depression, I adapted my creative outlets—playing the piano, writing, painting, and performing—to teach myself to thrive and love unconditionally. My flag shows music flowing out to the world. Never static, the sounds can be heard anywhere if you are willing to listen. Music makes everything better. The colors stand for sunshine, fun, moving ahead, energetic joyful sounds, and a beautiful loving heart. My heart is full—and I am happy.”
Snoopy's Mom (Carol)
Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan
“I started dancing at age seven. Throughout my studies, I was told I was a beginner and I had to start over at new schools. It never bothered me. I just kept working and eventually got what I wanted. After doing four pirouettes in front of George Balanchine, I was asked to join the NYC Ballet at Lincoln Center. I was a ballerina with them for 20 years. I loved dancing, but at age 37, I retired from the stage. I taught, and started my own school. I never worked so hard in my life! But it was a good school.”
Daniel Garland (78)
New York, NY
“At 14 years old, I had surgery on my leg. It took a long time to heal, and I couldn’t go out to play with the other kids. I love the Mets so I would listen to games on the radio. Once, I heard a radio program about thinking positive, so that’s what I try to do. I have learned to live with my leg issues. When people see my flag, I want them to feel peaceful and relaxed, like they will get through hard times and find their way back to the peace they lost.”
Marjorie Deborah Conn (79)
Hell's Kitchen, Manhattan
“When my dog Nike died, I was overcome with grief. I cried for months and decided I never wanted another dog. Then Nike came to me in a dream, and told me to stop mourning and start rescuing. I adopted abused greyhounds and special needs cats and dogs. I realized they were rescuing me. The heart in my flag is broken, yet large; it’s resilient and tough enough to continue rescuing pets in spite of the grief when they die. The rainbow colors represent the ‘rainbow bridge’ where pets go to await their person and my pets’ distinct personalities and qualities.”
Rhonda Williams (67)
“The pandemic brought isolation, fear, depression, and trauma to my body, mind, and spirit. I coped through prayer and mediation. By realizing present circumstances, I accepted my new normal in all areas of my life. I retired earlier than planned due to the pandemic. This was a great segue to the rest of my life. I’m now free to create and explore as an author and spiritual agent. It’s an opportunity to flourish and serve humanity on a global level. The flag represents the sun and enlightenment. It suggests perpetual motion as the global community awakens to the oneness of humanity.”
Karen Edka Makower (77)
Knickerbocker Village, Manhattan
“Being in lockdown with no significant other, I depended on the companionship of my six-year-old cockatiel, Baby QT. As the only living being I could touch, he helped me stay sane through the pandemic. Birds groom every feather they can reach, but they depend on their partner to groom their heads. Just as Baby QT is my partner, I am his partner. When he comes to me for grooming, I scratch his head, neck, and beak. And when I come home, even before I open the door, I hear him calling for me. It makes me feel loved and wanted.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST RESIDENCY
The socially engaged residency program was created in response to the powerful ideas and artworks artists have generated throughout recent moments of political and cultural upheaval. The program is launched based on the belief that artists are visionary thinkers and creative problem solvers, that novel ideas and collaborations are necessary in response to the current crises, and that Times Square’s unique characteristics as both a public space and a cultural and commercial district are vital in tackling the social, cultural, and political challenges we face as a city and a society.
The residency will support one artist per year for a 6-month period who has demonstrated a socially-engaged practice and shows a commitment to fostering meaningful connections both within and beyond the art community. As part of the program, Times Square Arts will facilitate connections with individuals and organizations in Times Squares’ unique community, including a diverse range of people representing Broadway theaters, restaurants, retail, hotels, real estate, law, finance, senior services, media and advertising, technology, small businesses and vendors, as well as Times Square’s internal departments, such as sanitation. The program provides artists with the tools to match the scale of Times Square. Artists will receive a fee, and any resources and expertise that the broader Times Square Alliance team can provide. Artists may be eligible for additional funding toward the public presentation of their artwork in Times Square.
ABOUT TIMES SQUARE ARTS
Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, collaborates with contemporary artists and cultural institutions to experiment and engage with one of the world's most iconic urban places. Through the Square's electronic billboards, public plazas, vacant areas and popular venues, and the Alliance's own online landscape, Times Square Arts invites leading contemporary creators, such as Mel Chin, Tracey Emin, Jeffrey Gibson, Ryan McGinley, Yoko Ono, and Kehinde Wiley, to help the public see Times Square in new ways. Times Square has always been a place of risk, innovation and creativity, and the Arts Program ensures these qualities remain central to the district's unique identity.
ABOUT CHRISTINE WONG YAP
Christine Wong Yap is a project-based artist who often uses printmaking, drawing, and social practice to explore psychological well-being. Recent projects have explored resilience, belonging, interdependence, and collaboration. She has participated in over a dozen residencies and studio programs. She maintains ties to the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City.
ABOUT ENCORE COMMUNITY SERVICES
Encore Community Services was founded in 1977, by Sr. Lillian McNamara, Sr. Elizabeth Hasselt and Fr. George Moore to provide food, socialization and support for the elderly of the Hell’s Kitchen and Broadway communities. What started as a single community center in the basement of St. Malachy’s Church has since grown into a multipurpose, nonsectarian agency providing a comprehensive array of programs and services to elderly New Yorkers. Each year Encore provides over 400,000 meals; both on-site, at our senior center and delivered directly to our homebound members.
In addition to providing meals and social services to the elderly, Encore also operates the Encore 49 and Encore West Residences. The Encore 49 Residence provides an SRO-style supportive housing facility for formerly homeless seniors with special needs. In a safe, clean and caring environment, residents are provided with their own units, and a range of mental health services. The Encore West Residence provides 84 independent housing units for the very low-income elderly.
Encore strives to provide a safe and welcoming environment to any senior that may need us, from meals, to social services, to housing; Encore’s philosophy remains the same: “By nurturing, respecting and enabling, Encore hopes to improve the quality of life of older New Yorkers in need, in an approach that emanates from the core of Encore’s commitment: we believe that what we do comes from the heart and the heart is the center of all.”
Senior Account Executive, Cultural Counsel