Artist Seeks to Free Her 'Fearless Girl' from Bureaucratic and Legal Limbo

Artist Kristen Visbal stands with her creation, "Fearless Girl," during an appearance on Nov. 2. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

Dec. 03, 2021

Update 12/14/21: The Landmarks Preservation Commission today approved an application to extend Fearless Girl's stay on Broad Street for another three years. Approval on the aethetics of the statue, the commission said, rests with the city's Public Design Commission, which has yet to opine on the work.

Artist Kristen Visbal stood like a doting mother next to her famous four-foot creation, “Fearless Girl,” at times placing a hand affectionately on the bronze child’s head. It was Dec. 2, three days past the statue’s legal stay on Broad Street, where the girl defiantly faces the New York Stock Exchange and, officially, could be removed any day. Visbal’s plea: Let her stay.

“‘Fearless Girl’ stands on borrowed time, permitless, while another three-year temporary permit is up for review,” she said at a press conference. “‘Fearless Girl’ must remain a permanent fixture in New York.”

As the Trib first reported, the statue’s one-year permit issued by the city in 2018 and renewed twice—its legal renewal limit—expired on Nov. 29. With “Fearless Girl’s” future in doubt, its owner, State Street Global Advisors, is going before the Landmarks Preservation Commission on Dec. 14 to ask for a three-year extension. (The Commission has jurisdiction over the statue because it stands on the area’s landmarked street grid.)

Visbal said she was “shocked” to learn that the statue was only temporarily permitted to remain on Broad Street. A State Street spokeswoman said in a statement, “We have been assured directly by the Landmarks Preservation Commission that no enforcement action will be taken following the expiration of the current permit.” 

State Street, through an advertising agency, adopted the work, and trademarked it, as part of its campaign to bring more women onto corporate boards. First installed near Bowling Green and “Charging Bull” in March 2017, it was moved to Broad Street in December 2018, where it has remained as a “temporary” installation.

In addition to its unresolved status on the landmarked cobblestone street, another bureaucratic stumbling block may remain.

The city’s Public Design Commission, which must approve long-term siting of artworks on city-owned property, has not held a hearing on “Fearless Girl.” But it would be highly unusual for it to give its consent. Only one temporary installation of artwork, the pair of peacock sculptures by Gaston Lachaise at the Bartow Pell Mansion, has been on view on city property for more than three years, according to information provided by the commission to Todd Fine, a Lower Manhattan activist who has taken on the artist’s cause. So Visbal says she wants to donate another casting to the city for permanent display, even if it’s not on Broad Street.

“I think that ‘Fearless Girl’ could stand just about anywhere,” she said. “And we should really think about that as a community. Within New York City what’s the best place for this figure? I’d like to place her at the United Nations.”


(A spokesman for the Mayor’s Office declined to comment on the offer, and referred all questions about “Fearless Girl’ to the Landmarks Commission. Zodet Negron, spokeswoman for the commission, did not respond to questions emailed to her.)

As for now, Visbal is locked in a legal battle with State Street over her right to sell or give away copies of the 25 casts, plus two full-size artist proofs, that comprise the limited edition. “‘Fearless Girl’ has become entangled in a legal quagmire that has stymied her ability to impact equality, and she must be freed,” she said. Before the suit, four had been sold, she said.

In court papers, State Street, which would not comment on Visbal’s potential offer of a donated statue to the city, claims that the artist “is weakening and adulterating the Fearless Girl message by selling unauthorized copies of the Fearless Girl statue for profit,” an alleged breach of her contract. Visbal’s countersuit asserts that the agreement only grants State Street writes to the phrase “Fearless Girl” and “a limited license to the copyright for use in its business and to promote corporate board diversity.”

Mediation between the two parties is scheduled for Dec. 12.

Meanwhile, Visbal is not contesting State Street’s use of “Fearless Girl” to promote its message of gender equality on corporate boards. But, she said, the statue goes far beyond that, as a “symbol of empowerment for women who face hardship around the globe.”

“They cannot block everyone else from using the work for good,” she said. “The ideals behind ‘Fearless Girl’ belong to all of us, and she needs to be used for the good of all of us.”