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There are examples from all over the country.

Not every place has needed government incentives. Randy Gragg, who covers architecture and urban planning for the Oregonian in Portland, Oregon, says the "alternative sensibility" did more to encourage creative entrepreneurship in Portland than anything else. It did help, he says, that the city built a lot of affordable housing in the 1970s.

Now that Portland is entrenched as a creative city, Gragg says, government has talked about incentives. Mayor Vera Katz is meeting with artists, but the kind of money she's talking about -- $1,000 grants to artists -- is laughable.

"It's ridiculous. Barely worth bothering with," Gragg says.

But there's a lot out there that is worth emulating.

Fifteen years ago, voters in metropolitan Denver created the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District. The district, renewed by voters in 1994, collects 1 cent on every $10 purchase, and gives the proceeds to arts, culture and science organizations. Tens of millions of dollars are pumped into the culture economy of Denver every year -- including into small, independent arts organizations.

Or how about tax breaks for artists who make the decision to live downtown?

In the 1990s, downtown Providence, Rhode Island, was run-down. The mayor went to the state legislature and lobbied to create an arts district. Artists who live downtown don't pay income taxes on earnings from their work.

Maryland recently passed similar legislation, creating several arts districts around the state.

Sarah Hutt, who now heads the City of Boston's public art department, is an artist who started fighting for artists' rights years ago. She wound up working for the city.

She recalls that Boston's art scene took off after the city made it easier for artists to find and buy housing downtown.

The city passed a zoning law that relaxed some rules for artists' work/live spaces, using commercial codes instead of residential, in many instances. That made the spaces more affordable. Artists had to qualify as artists under prescribed guidelines. The properties were sold at a reduced rate, with restrictions on resale. Storefronts had to be commercial, to encourage foot traffic. Finally, the properties are taxed at a residential rate instead of a commercial rate, to make them more affordable.

The city runs a program called Home Buying 101, to educate artists about how to buy these properties.

In addition, Hutt started a city program called the Boston Open Studio Coalition. The group provides grants, lists galleries with the local chamber of commerce, promotes the arts on the city's Web site and pays for mailings and posters.

Hutt suggests showing local artists' work in city hall, sponsoring a festival highlighting the arts and offering contests.

"You have to raise the self-esteem of the artists while you're trying to raise visibility," she says. The art can't be junk, and artists must be open during the hours they say they'll be open.

The city needs to support the whole thing, Hutt says.

"It's almost like if you started the WPA there."

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