The iconic “Courageous Girl” statue will continue to stand outside the New York Stock Exchange after city officials voted Monday to extend the sculpture’s temporary permit for 11 months. This decision comes with the requirement that the city, the owner of the statue and the artist return within six months to a process that determines the fate of the final artwork.
While the vote resolved short-term concerns, critics continue to question how bronze sculptures circumvent the city’s five-year normal public art process. Critics also ask why The sponsor, State Street Global Advisors, an asset management firm, they say, has tried to sideline the statue’s creator in discussions about the statue’s future. (The artist is in an ongoing legal dispute with State Street.)
“To overcome pessimism about the growing power of corporations, New York City must defend its public spaces,” Todd Fine, a historian who has lobbied for the statue, said in an interview. “Today’s decision was a victory for fundamental justice and the rights of the artist.”
“We appreciate that the ‘Courageous Girl’ statue will remain in its current location in front of the New York Stock Exchange,” State Street said in a statement Monday, adding that given the outcome of the hearing, it will work “in conjunction with the Department of Transportation, PDC and the artist regarding our desire to retain With the statue of “Courageous Girl” in its current position for a long time.”
In November, State Street asked the Landmark Preservation Commission to keep the work in place for the next 10 years, giving assurances that the company would fund maintenance and repair work. Instead, the committee voted unanimously to keep the statue on the historic cobblestones of Broad Street for another three years and returned the final decision to the Public Design Committee, a committee appointed by the mayor to oversee the city’s art collection.
On Monday, the committee seemed inclined to include the artist.
“I want to take people’s feet to the fire and solve this,” Signi Nielsen, chair of the committee, said at the meeting. “How do we proceed here to enable this piece to remain in the public domain as well as advance a process in which the artist can regain control of her work?”
When “Fearless Girl” debuted in the City in 2017, it met with mixed reception. Where some saw the statue as a rude act of corporate feminism from a company with its own history of allegations of gender discrimination, others saw it as a symbol of economic empowerment. After the statue moved up the steps of the New York Stock Exchange, thousands continued to gather each year to take a selfie with the girl holding her floor.
The statue’s popularity certainly influenced the Public Design Committee’s vote, as did the ongoing legal dispute over copyright and trademark agreements between State Street and “Scared Girl” sculptor Kristen Visbal. In 2019, the company sued the artist, alleging her breach of those agreements saying Visbal had caused “substantial irreparable harm” to “Fearless Girl” by selling bronze replicas. The artist has filed a counterclaim alleging that State Street impeded her ability to spread the artwork’s message of gender equality.
“It’s just something wrong with me,” Visbal said of her deal with State Street. “you’ve been deceived.”
(State Street did not immediately respond to questions about the ongoing lawsuit.)
In an interview last week, Visbal said she is changing her legal representation after spending $3.2 million on the lawsuit. It said it still plans to release a set of non-fungible tokens, or NFTs, based on the statue in the coming months to offset its costs.
Because State Street applied directly for the original city permit for “Brave Girl,” through the Department of Transportation, Visbal said she was largely excluded from discussions about the fate of her work — unusual in a public art process that usually prioritizes artists’ opinions.
State Street worked hard to secure the future of “Brave Girl”. According to government disclosure forms, the company spent $15,000 directly lobbying Nielsen and Sarah Carroll, chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Edward Patterson, a spokesperson for State Street Global Advisors, said the firm had hired a consultant because of the city’s complex process for public art.
Meanwhile, elected officials complained that their views of the “brave girl” were not taken into account before the public design commission’s decision. In a letter to the committee, the 1 Community Council Chairman said State Street did not adequately engage with local residents.
“A major step in the public engagement process has been skipped now that the review has been conducted,” wrote Tammy Melzer, Chair of the Board of Directors. “There are greater concerns about the precedent this sets for other applicants in sending the message that it is acceptable to take a side step for Community Council and Public Participation.”
Councilman Christopher Mart, a Democrat for an area that includes the Financial District, also wrote with concerns about the deal while supporting a permanent plan for the sculpture. He wrote: “It does not seem possible to exist as a temporary business owned by a private entity indefinitely.”
The Commissioners of Public Design appeared to agree with the council member on Monday, making clear in their statements before the vote that a limited timeline would force the artist, the asset management firm and the city to work together on a process to ensure the “courageous girl” finds a permanent home.