New York Lets ‘Fearless Girl’ Hold On, For Now

The popular “Fearless Girl” sculpture will continue to stand in front of the New York Stock Exchange after city officials voted on Monday to extend the sculpture’s temporary license for 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 ultimate fate 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 his hedge fund sponsor, State Street Global Advisors, they say, tried to sideline the sculpture’s creator in talks about the sculpture’s future. (The artist is in ongoing litigation with State Street.)

“To overcome cynicism about the rise of business, New York City must defend its public spaces,” Todd Fine, a historian who has rallied support for the statue, said in an interview. “Today’s decision was a victory for fundamental fairness and for artists’ rights.”

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

In November, State Street had applied to the Landmarks Preservation Commission to keep the work in place for the next 10 years, guaranteeing that the company would fund its maintenance and repair. Instead, the panel voted unanimously to keep the sculpture on the historic cobblestones of Broad Street for another three years and deferred the final decision to the Public Design Commission, a panel appointed by the mayor to oversee the collection of art in the city.

Monday’s commission seemed inclined to implicate the artist.

“I want to hold people at the feet of the fire and solve this problem,” Signe Nielsen, chair of the commission, said at the meeting. “How can we move forward here to allow this piece to remain in the public domain in addition to advancing a process where the artist is able to take back control of their piece?”

When “Fearless Girl” first appeared in the Financial District in 2017, it received mixed reception. Where some saw the statue as a shameless 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 of people have continued to gather each year for a selfie with the girl holding on.

The statue’s popularity certainly weighed on the Public Design Commission’s 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 claiming that Visbal had caused “substantial and irreparable harm” to “Fearless Girl” by selling replicas of the bronze. The artist filed a counterclaim alleging that State Street interfered with his ability to spread the work’s gender equality message.

“It’s just not true what happened to me,” Visbal said of his deal with State Street. “I was deceived.”

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

In an interview last week, Visbal said she was changing legal representation after spending $3.2 million on the lawsuit. She said she still plans to release a set of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, based on the statue in the coming months to further offset her costs.

And because State Street directly applied for the home city’s permit for ‘Fearless Girl,’ through the Department of Transportation, Visbal said she was largely left out of discussions about the fate of her job — unusual. in a public art process 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 directly lobbying Nielsen and Sarah Carroll, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

Edward Patterson, a spokesman for the hedge fund, said the company hired a consultant because of the city’s complex public art process.

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

“A major step in the public engagement process is skipped now that the review is underway,” wrote Tammy Melzer, the chair. “There are larger concerns about the precedent this sets for other candidates by sending a message that it is okay to circumvent community advice and public engagement.”

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

The public design commissioners appeared to agree with the councilman on Monday, making clear in their statements ahead of the vote that a limited time frame would require the artist, the hedge fund and the city to work together on a process to ensure that ” Fearless Girl” finds a permanent home.

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