New York Lets ‘Fearless Girl’ Hold Her Ground, for Now

The popular “Fearless Girl” sculpture will remain outside the New York Stock Exchange after city officials voted Monday to extend the sculpture’s temporary permit by 11 months. This decision comes with the stipulation that the city, the owner of the sculpture and the artist return in six months with a process to decide the final destination of the work.

While the vote resolved short-term concerns, critics continue to question how the bronze sculpture circumvented the city’s normal public art process for five years. Critics also question why its backer, State Street Global Advisors, an asset management firm, they say, tried to sideline the sculpture’s creator in discussions about the sculpture’s future. (The artist is in an ongoing legal dispute with State Street.)

“To overcome cynicism about growing corporate power, New York City must defend its public spaces,” Todd Fine, a historian who rallied support for the statue, said in an interview. “Today’s decision was a victory for basic justice and artists’ rights.”

State Street said in a statement Monday, “We appreciate the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue remaining in its current location in front of the New York Stock Exchange,” adding that given the outcome of the hearing, it would work “together with the Department of Transportation, PDC and the artist regarding our desire to keep the ‘Fearless Girl’ statue in its current location for an extended period of time.”

In November, State Street had asked the Landmarks Preservation Commission to keep the work going for the next 10 years, ensuring the company would fund its maintenance and repairs. Instead, the panel voted unanimously to keep the sculpture on Broad Street’s historic cobblestones for another three years and deferred a final decision to the Public Design Commission, a panel appointed by the mayor to oversee the city’s art collection.

Monday’s commission seemed inclined to involve the artist.

“I want to keep people’s feet on the fire and get this resolved,” Signe Nielsen, chair of the commission, said at the meeting. “How do we move forward here to allow this piece to remain in the public realm as well as move forward in a process where the artist can take back control over the work from him?”

When “Fearless Girl” first appeared in the financial district in 2017, it received a mixed reception. While some saw the statue as a brazen act of corporate feminism from a company with its own history of gender discrimination claims, others saw it as a symbol of economic empowerment. After the statue was moved to the steps of the New York Stock Exchange, thousands continued to gather each year to take a selfie with the girl defending her position.

The popularity of the statue certainly influenced the Public Design Commission vote, as did the ongoing legal dispute over copyright and trademark deals between State Street and “Fearless Girl” sculptor Kristen Visbal. . In 2019, the company sued the artist alleging breach of those agreements and saying Visbal caused “substantial and irreparable harm” to “Fearless Girl” by selling replicas of the bronze. The artist filed a counterclaim alleging that State Street has impeded her ability to spread the artwork’s message of gender equality.

“It’s just wrong what happened to me,” Visbal said of his deal with State Street. “They cheated me.”

(State Street did not immediately respond to questions about the ongoing lawsuit.)

In an interview last week, Visbal said he will change his legal representation after spending $3.2 million on the lawsuit. He said he still plans to launch a set of statue-based non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, in the coming months to further offset its costs.

And because State Street applied directly for the original city permit for “Fearless Girl” through the Department of Transportation, Visbal said she was largely excluded from discussions about the fate of her work, unusual in a process of public art that generally prioritizes the opinions of artists.

State Street has worked hard to secure the future of “Fearless Girl.” According to state disclosure forms, the company spent $15,000 on direct lobbying by Nielsen and Sarah Carroll, president of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Edward Patterson, a spokesman for State Street Global Advisors, said the company hired a consultant because of the city’s complex public art process.

Meanwhile, elected officials have complained that their views on “Fearless Girl” were not considered prior to the Public Design Commission’s decision. In a letter to the panel, the chairman of Community Board 1 said that State Street had not engaged enough with local residents.

“An important step in the public engagement process is being skipped now that the review is underway,” wrote Tammy Melzer, the chair. “There are further concerns about the precedent this sets for other applicants by sending a message that it is acceptable to sideline the Community Board and public participation.”

Councilman Christopher Marte, a Democrat from an area that includes the Financial District, also wrote about his concerns about the deal and supported a permanent plan for the sculpture. “It does not seem feasible for it to exist as a temporary work owned by a private entity indefinitely,” he wrote.

Public design commissioners appeared to agree with the councilman on Monday, making it clear in their remarks before the vote that a limited timeline would force the artist, the asset management firm and the city to work together in a process to ensure that “Fearless Girl” finds a permanent home.

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