How I Keep Looking Up is a public artwork by artist Christine Wong Yap created in collaboration with seniors from Encore Community Services, a comprehensive senior service organization based in Times Square and Hell’s Kitchen. Ceremonially unfurled on Flag Day, June 14, 2021, the flags on display represent the personal stories of eleven Encore seniors, each design symbolizing their individual sources of resilience in the face of adversity. Each flag was proudly sewn by professional stitchers from New York City’s theater community, whose livelihoods have been on pause due to the closure of Broadway and other performance spaces since March of last year.

Participating Seniors and Flag Designs

A triangular flag outlined in purple, with a purple bird and blue, pink, and red butterflies against a yellow background, above wavy green and jagged blue

Z/C, 83
Hell’s Kitchen

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. At 83, I learned that I’m strong, smart, and teachable. My patience and peace grows in me.

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 I pursue. The bird is me, chasing butterflies of hope, royalty and respect, and love and faith.

Flag sewn by Tian Thoon.


Geometric shapes against a white background; clockwise from top left, they are a magenta rectangle with a black stripe; an upside down magenta triangle with a green stripe; a black rectangle with a magenta stripe; a blue triangle with an orange stripe; a green rectangle with a magenta stripe; and an orange triangle with a blue stripe

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.

Thanks to Yocastia “Yoki” Jimenez, Director of Aging Wellness at Encore Community Services.

Flag sewn by Gabrielle Cryan.


Vector illustration of a blue eagle with its wings raised, perched on a pole against a light blue background

Martha Chavez
Midtown Manhattan

When I was young, a relative told me I would never amount to anything. Kids never forget who hurt them, but I never showed defeat. I surrounded myself with positive people and read everything about releasing pain. I went to art college, earned a master’s degree, and worked in fashion and in special education, where 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.

Flag sewn by Sandra Frye.


Thick, vertical, curving stripes of blue and orange, with a wavy horizontal line in yellow cutting across them

RM Gallinari
Astoria, Queens

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, like the harder and easier times in life. The yellow line is a walking route and a reminder that I can always look up.

Flag sewn by Tian Thoon.

Maroon stage curtains on a blue background frame the Brooklyn bridge. Underneath the cables on the left of the bridge are yellow, black, and red stripes; underneath the cables on the right are white and red stripes

Peter Gallinari, 73
Astoria, Queens

At eight years old, I emigrated from Germany to 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 Department of Sanitation, I acted in films, television, and on Broadway as Peter Linari.

On my flag, the Brooklyn Bridge connects the old country to the new world. It’s framed by stage curtains representing my acting career.

Flag sewn by Victor Carvajal.


A rainbow of four-sided polygons come out of an illustrated keyboard

NMS, 67
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.

Flag sewn by Gabrielle Cryan.


An illustrated foot in a white ballet slipper, mirrored on the top and the bottom of the image

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.

Flag sewn by Victor Carvajal.


A white cloud with a smile against a blue background

Daniel Garland
Times Square, Manhattan

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.

Flag sewn by Sarah Highers.

Daniel’s flag design and story were collected with the help of Marissa Macebuh, Residential Case Manager, at Encore 49. Encore 49 provides safe and dignified housing and social services to seniors who have experienced mental, physical, emotional, or financial challenges.


A large heart with shatter lines, covered by images of a cat, dogs, and paws in rainbow colors

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.

Flag sewn by Aislinn Smith.


The points of rainbow-colored triangles converge, creating the image of a white star-like shape that two brown hands reach towards

Rhonda Williams, 67
Harlem, Manhattan

The pandemic brought isolation, fear, depression, and trauma to my body, mind, and spirit.

I coped through prayer and meditation. 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.

Flag sewn by Sarah Highers.


A grey silhouetted face leans towards an illustrated cockatiel with yellow head feathers. Grey and yellow shapes reminiscent of feathers appear towards the right.

Karen Edka Makower, 77
Lower East Side, 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.

Flag sewn by Aislinn Smith.



Aislinn Smith
Aislinn Smith is a stitcher and craftsperson based in New York City. She attended Smith College for a degree in Theatre and Costume Design and moved to NYC in 2008 where she nannied, designed costumes, and played rugby for the Village Lions Rugby Club. She currently works for John Kristiansen and the Radio City Rockettes building costumes for Broadway, Disney parks, and cruise ships, as well as the Rockettes Christmas Spectacular show.

Gaby Cryan
Gaby Cryan is a dreamer and a doer. A multifaceted costumer, she is a proud member of IATSE 764.

Sandra Frye
Sandra Frye studied Fashion Design at Los Angeles Trade Technical College. Her career spans from film and television in Los Angeles, to shows in Las Vegas, NV, to Shakespeare in the Park. Most recently, she has worked as a stitcher with the Metropolitan Opera and Radio City Rockettes. She is a member of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union Local 764.

Sarah Highers
Sarah Highers is a seamstress and tailor from Brooklyn, NY. She attended Pratt Institute and for the past 10 years has worked extensively in costume and fashion for commercials, TV, and theatre. Her most recent work includes costume building for designer Garo Sparo and menswear tailoring at the Metropolitan Opera costume shop.

Tian Thoon
Tian Thoon is an experienced costume technician and seamstress based in New York. With over 25 years of experience in the entertainment and fashion industry, she has worked on various projects for NYFW, Broadway, and currently works at The Metropolitan Opera House. She specializes in embroidery, stitching, and millinery in a wide range of applications. In her free time, she enjoys being active and spending time with her family and two dogs.