THESE days, even the National Endowment for the Arts is getting into the job-creation business. Last month it started a $23.5 million effort to revitalize blighted urban neighborhoods, including money for public arts projects in St. Paul, museum renovations in Detroit and artists’ housing in Harlem.
The idea that art can be an economic engine is hardly new, and a walk through SoHo, Venice Beach or Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood shows it can work. The N.E.A.’s promotional material makes clear that its goal is to create new SoHo’s in hard-hit cities across the country. But contrary to the N.E.A.’s good intentions, it takes more than grants and tax breaks to make the arts thrive. Too often, art-driven revitalization efforts overlook the mercurial nature of art itself.