Defiant 'Fearless Girl': How Much Longer Can She Take a Stand?

"Fearless Girl" has faced the New York Stock Exchange on Broad Street since December 2018. It was first given a permit for one week, in March 2017, on the traffic island near Bowling Green, where it stared down "Charging Bull." Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib   

Oct. 28, 2021

“Fearless Girl” faces an uncertain future.

Officially, time is running out for the 4-foot-tall statue on Broad Street, where it stands defiantly, hands on hips, opposite the New York Stock Exchange. Its one-year permit from the city in 2018, renewed twice, expires at the end of November. Now it is nearing its temporary renewal limit. The “Fearless Girl” owners, State Street Global Advisors, are looking to make her stay there permanent—or at least indefinite.

That application was due to go before the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission next month. While “Fearless Girl” appears to be safely ensconced for the time being, questions raised over the approval process for the popular bronze figure have put the application on hold.

This month, Community Board 1 said in a resolution that the agency should not consider the application until it goes before the Public Design Commission. The PDC, which has jurisdiction over art installations on city-owned property, had been sidestepped when the Landmarks Commission granted temporary approval for the statue, which stands on a landmarked cobblestone street. While calling the statue a “positive influence on the FiDi area,” CB1 did not take a stand on whether it favored the statue’s permanent status. 

“Even if everybody loved it. Even if it spewed out dollar bills into everybody’s face, it still should just follow the procedure,” said Jason Friedman, chair of CB1’s Landmarks Preservation Committee, and the author of the resolution.  

Bruce Ehrmann, the committee’s co-chair, said the historic significance of the street required “special consideration.” “This is the only landmark-designated street grid that exists in all of New York City,” he said. The only street pattern that is itself landmarked.”

“We’re just trying to follow the rules here,” John Brockelman, head of brand marketing and communications for State Street, told the Landmarks Committee.

In response to questions about its jurisdiction over the statue, the LPC said in statement only that the application is “under review.” Keri Butler, executive director of the PDC, did not respond to a request for comment.

State Street commissioned the work, by Kristen Visbal, as part of its campaign to get more women on corporate boards. First installed near Bowling Green in March 2017 for what was to be a one-week, symbolic standoff with “Charging Bull,” “Fearless Girl” became an instant celebrity. Like the Bull, it drew tourists by the thousands and its stay was extended. But a threatened lawsuit by “Charging Bull” artist Arturo Di Modica led to its move to Broad Street in December 2018.

Some political leaders, such as Rep. Carolyn Maloney and then Public Advocate Leticia James, called for “Fearless Girl” to become permanent before its move from Bowling Green, and a petition supporting the statue gathered thousands of signatures. But it has had its detractors, too. Some have called the use of a little girl to represent professional women offensive, while others saw the statue idea, the creation of an ad agency, as a face-saving stunt for State Street. The firm had agreed to pay $5 million “mostly to settle claims that it discriminated against 305 top female employees by paying them less than men in the same positions,” according to The New York Times.

“They want to make an advertising campaign on a permanent basis,” said Todd Fine, a Lower Manhattan activist whose research on the matter helped influence the CB1 committee’s position. “I don’t think there’s a precedent for an advertising campaign on city streets in dialogue with a historic building. That needs to be treated with a lot more scrutiny and review.”

State Street Global Advisors, which calls itself the fourth largest asset manager in the world, maintains that “Fearless Girl” has had an impact on female representation on corporate boards. “We think the “Fearless Girl” has been critically important in helping us get real results,” Brockelman said.

“Tons and tons of young girls come down to the statue and do that bold and confident pose,” he added. “They are inspired by that component of the campaign.”

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