What's the Future for 'Fearless Girl'? A Call for an End to the Uncertainty.

"Fearless Girl" has been standing on Broad Street, facing the New York Stock Exchange, since December, 2018. Last month it received its fourth "temporary" permit to remain there. Photo: Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

May. 06, 2022

More than three years after “Fearless Girl” took her defiant pose opposite the New York Stock Exchange, the popular bronze symbol of female empowerment finds her future enmeshed in a bureaucratic and legal limbo.

Last month, the the city’s Public Design Commission, which is normally tasked with approving the long-term siting of proposed artworks on city-owned property, denied a “temporary” three-year extension to the statue, sought by its owner, State Street Global Advisors, and the city’s Department of Transportation. Instead, the PDC granted the 4-foot tourist magnet another 11 months on Broad Street—its fourth extension permit since 2018—and called for an end to the artwork’s seemingly unending temporary status.

“I don’t want to kick the can down the road,” said PDC President Signe Nielsen. “If there is not a resolution, then one year from now they will be before us again for another temporary permit.”

“Fearless Girl,” created by Kristen Visbal, first appeared near Bowling Green opposite the “Charging Bull” statue in March 2017. Intended by State Street as a mere week-long installation for International Women’s Day, it was an overnight sensation, so the city allowed it to stay there until December 2018. Then the city let it move to its current, still temporary, home on Broad Street. 

“‘Fearless Girl’ has become a global phenomenon, something far beyond our original intention and more powerful than we imagined,” Sarah Locklear of State Street told the commission.

The PDC, which normally reviews the aesthetic appropriateness of proposed public works, had not been consulted about “Fearless Girl” until last month. (In December, the Landmarks Preservation Commission gave its own blessing to the work’s placement on the historic street grid.) Now weighing in, the PDC wants the Department of Transportation, State Street and the artist to find a way for the statue—or some facsimile—to become a permanent piece of public art, somewhere in the city. They were told to return in six months with what Nielsen described as “a substantive process in place to resolve the way in which this piece of work is going to be adjudicated, placed, honored and attributed to the artist.

While there is overwhelming support for making “Fearless Girl” a piece of permanent public art, city regulations, and legal entanglements between State Street, the statue’s owner, and Visbal, its artist, will make that process anything but easy.

Visbal wants to donate an artist proof casting to the city. “I am convinced that the only way the artist’s rights can be honored and acknowledged is if the city owns the work,” she said. But according to DOT policy, it cannot accept donated art. The piece is also an unlikely candidate for another option, the city’s Percent for Art Program, which calls for 1% of a city-funded construction project to go towards public art. Those projects, the PDC’s executive director, Keri Butler, pointed out, “are typically a longtime in the making,” and art proposals for them go through a lengthy competitive review. 

Nicholas Pettinati, the DOTs deputy director of urban design, said his agency would be willing to work with State Street and Visbal to try to come up with a solution, but “to arrive at a decision in terms of adjusting city policy of accepting gifts of art, finding capital projects, theres a lot of complex pieces here that go way above my paygrade.

Then there is Visbal’s assertion, as she told the commission, that her rights to the work have been violated, that “Fearless Girl” is being misused to promote State Street on public property, and that the financial firm and DOT have not treated her fairly. “Nor have they abided by their own contracts in ensuring artist participation around “Fearless Girl,” she said. 

(A DOT spokesman declined to respond to Visbal’s claims or to emailed questions about the statue’s future. State Street Global Advisors also did not respond to questions for this story.)

In the meantime, Visbal and State Street are separately locked in a lawsuit and countersuit over the artist’s right to sell or give away other castings of “Fearless Girl.”

“We’re not a court of law. We can’t get into deciding who owns copyright, who owns trademark,” Butler said. “It’s very unfortunate that that’s part of the story.”

Whatever solution is arrived at, the commissioners made it clear that they want the artist involved in the decision. 

“This sculpture speaks to supporting women,” said Commissioner Kenseth Armstead, “and the first woman who it needs to support is the artist herself.

In a statement, Visbal said, “I am beyond grateful to New York City and the Public Design Commission for hearing my concerns. I pledge to work with the City to identify a fair and reasonable solution in the coming six months.

Comments? Write to carlg@tribecatrib.com


'Charging Bull' was a gift that avoided bureaucracy

I've always felt that this statue was an insult to Arturo Di'Modica who created the Wall Street Bull as a gift to this city (with no bureaucracy involved, which made it more special since no politician or agency could take unearned credit for it) and he delivered this gift in a way that was genius. — SHERRI ROSEN, Forest Hills