St. Mary’s Episcopal School, Memphis
The Reverend Alexander H. Webb II (“Sandy”)
August 16, 2017
This summer, I met someone to whom I would like to introduce you. Her name: Fearless Girl.
Fearless Girl is the work of New York artist Kristen Visbal, commissioned by State Street Global Advisors. She appeared in Lower Manhattan’s Bowling Green on March 7, 2017.
Fearless Girl stands directly in front of the iconic Wall Street bull, facing him down like a toreador. Her hair and dress blowing in a strong wind, she is shown to be tackling even the forces of nature. Fearless Girl is a Latina in a part of the world dominated by white people. She is a pre-adolescent in a world that says adults have a monopoly on wisdom and ability. She is little on a street that values big.
In commissioning the work, State Street Global Advisors sought to promote the presence of women in the top levels of corporate management. And, they certainly got Wall Street talking. They also created something with which all of us can identify in one way or another. Fearless Girl stands for everyone who feels like they are about to be pushed over by the world around them.
I love this statue for another reason: Fearless Girl is a work of protest art. A group of people were upset about the way things were. In this case, it was a financial firm upset about a lack of gender diversity in corporate America. They could have organized a protest and disrupted traffic. They could have written unkind words in the newspaper or said them on television.
Instead, they created a new work of art. They did not vandalize anything. They did not disrespect anyone. They did not damage anyone’s property. They created a work of art, an action that by definition makes the world more beautiful, and they got us all talking.
Charging Bull, the iconic symbol of Wall Street, against whom Fearless Girl stands, her hands defiantly on her hips, was created by Arturo Di Modica in 1989. The stock market crashed that year, and he created the work to show the “strength and power of the American people.”
Di Modica does not share my affection for Fearless Girl, and he has petitioned the City of New York to have her removed. He says Fearless Girl changes the meaning of Charging Bull from a symbol of American resilience into a symbol of male dominance. Art gets people talking. For five months now, New Yorkers and those of us who have an affinity for New York, have been talking about the role of women in business, the meaning behind two beautiful statues, and the role of the arts in our public life. I think that we are better off for having had that conversation.
Imagine that State Street Global Advisors had taken a different approach, making outlandish or disrespectful comments in the newspaper or on television. They would have created a little bit of buzz. We would have talked about it for a few days. Then, we would have moved on. Instead, they have created a months-long public discourse, and added something truly beautiful to a city already filled with beautiful things.
There is an irony about Charging Bull and Fearless Girl: In petitioning the City to remove Fearless Girl, Di Modica has asked New York to defend his work. In 1989, he was petitioning the City to release it from custody. You see, Charging Bull is a work of “guerilla” art. Di Modica had no permit to install it. He literally showed up one night, and dropped a 7,100-pound statue under a large Christmas tree in the middle of Broad Street. The New York Police Department seized his statue the next day – you can’t just do that in New York – and only released it after a major public outcry.
To this day, Charging Bull sits at Bowling Green under a temporary permit, the very same type of permit that Di Modica wants the City to take away from Fearless Girl. Art gets people talking.
On Monday, you and I began a new year together, and this is my first opportunity to address you. I have told you this story from my summer travels because I think it is relevant to us right now for two reasons:
- People of faith need to be fearless. The most repeated phrase in all of Holy Scripture, both Old Testament and New Testament is this: Do not be afraid. God says it to Moses, to Joshua, to Isaiah, and in the Psalms. Jesus says it time and time again to his disciples, and it is echoed in the writings of Peter, Paul, and Timothy. The list goes on. We live in a scary world, but people of faith need to stand like troubadours in the midst of it.
- You need to speak your truth. We will talk with you about respectful and appropriate ways to express yourself. Cable news will show you the alternative. You will have to choose. But, when you do, I would remind you that it was a beautiful piece of art that got this conversation going, not unkindness or disrespect. What will be your art? What will be your means of expressing your truth in a way that makes the world a more beautiful place?
Fearless Girl shows us fearlessness in what she is, beauty and respect in how she came to be.
Our new year together is filled with both fears and possibilities. It will become what we make of it. Let’s make it a good, beautiful, and fearless one.