It’s wrong to say that the Pompidou x project has reached walking dead status. But it’s going to take some serious voltage to get the monster moving again.

In late April, the State Economic Development Corporation challenged the Jersey City municipal government to make the numbers add up — and since the numbers don’t add up, the Fulop Administration finds itself with limited argumentative latitude. Instead of mounting a convincing financial defense of the Pompidou project, the mayor accused Trenton of retribution for his retracted endorsement of Tammy Murphy for Senate. This explanation is politically plausible, but economically, it’s beside the point. Since it’s the questionable economics that will tank this project, the political bellyaching sounded like the snap of a white flag in a stiff wind.

Nevertheless, the Pompidou’s supporters are determined to sing this song through to its inevitable fadeout. Unable to produce a coherent business plan that puts the museum close to sustainability, they’ve instead fallen back on appeals to the project’s intangible, near-mystical qualities. In an editorial published on NJ.COM, Eric Allen Conner of the Hudson County Democratic Organization defended the Museum, arguing that this private initiative funded by public money will bring “immense social benefits” to Jersey City, and is therefore worth its nostril-clearing cost. Conner suggested that James McGreevey and other Pompidou critics who’ve blanched at the price tag are in thrall to Republican rhetoric and are repeating Republican talking points. If the common-sense proposition that a city in financial distress ought never to add optional multimillion-dollar projects to the budget is now the exclusive property of the Republican Party, I think we’d better brace ourselves for a Republican landslide.

It isn’t any such thing. No citizen wants to watch its government clumsily spend beyond its means. Now that the NJEDC has demanded a reckoning, public opinion isn’t going to turn back in favor of Pompidou x until the Fulop Administration explains how, precisely, this museum intends to carry its weight. Nebulous appeals to the “Bilbao effect” — the dubious idea that the construction of expensive architectural landmarks drive economic development — won’t cut it. There’s very little hard evidence that the Bilbao effect is a real thing. Cities as different as Denver, Helsinki, and Abu Dhabi have attempted to take a shortcut to progress by pushing monumental projects, and they’ve been left with little more than lighter wallets and public resentment. There isn’t even much of a case to be made that Bilbao effect applies to Bilbao. It’s more likely that the Guggenheim’s project there caught and rode a wave of revitalization based on the economic fundamentals of an autonomous Basque government. At least Bilbao got an actual museum out of their faith in the model. When the dust settles on this sorry affair, we’re likely to be left with nothing more than a night of ideas we’ve already had, and a heap of bricks in front of the Pathside Building.

Cities as different as Denver, Helsinki, and Abu Dhabi have attempted to take a shortcut to progress by pushing monumental projects, and they’ve been left with little more than lighter wallets and public resentment.

When the Pompidou announced their intention to open a satellite in Journal Square, the news was met with some incredulity (and a fair number of dumb Jersey jokes) in the art press. As good Jersey City residents, we weren’t having that: we know what we’ve got here, and we’ve got a pretty good idea why an overseas operation might want to take advantage of our deep and talented scene, our well-educated citizens, and the considerable disposable income of our residents.

Over the past eighteen months, we’ve discovered that, despite the institution’s reputation, the Pompidou may need us a good deal more than we need them. It appears we’re going into business with a fiscally unstable partner. As ARTnews reported in late April, the French Court of Auditors recently declared the celebrated Paris museum a financial mess: unable to pay for its renovation and expansion and casting about for deep-pocketed municipalities overseas to make up its shortfall. As it turns out, it isn’t just French regulators and parsimonious Jersey City politicians who have expressed their concern about the Museum’s lack of transparency and business practices. Last year, hundreds of workers at the Pompidou went on strike — and cited concerns about overexpansion, opacity, and dubious lending practices as reasons for their work stoppage.

Given the Pompidou’s money troubles, it isn’t too difficult to guess why they’d be attracted to a city willing to pay them through the nose to operate a satellite here. It’s quite a bit harder to understand our government’s motivations. In a town as artfully and historically inclined as ours, it shouldn’t have been hard for someone in power to recognize that this is not how successful museums are launched. Rarely, if ever, does a brand name visual arts institution open a successful spinoff in a smaller city. That the Pompidou is willing to do this speaks less about their ingenuity than it does about their present desperation.

Jersey City is a growing place. But it’s still only the seventy-fourth largest city in the country. The museums that have flourished in towns like ours tend to have organic origin stories. A wealthy philanthropist with a collection establishes a small facility in a modest building; in time and with public interest, it grows bigger. A group of artists with a common vision find a patron, or pool resources and spiff up a disused warehouse. Even many of the grand institutions that define artistic life on the glitzier side of the Hudson began humbly. PS1 in Queens is a model of what the Pompidou x aspires to be — a modern art center with roots in the community and an eye toward international trends. It was started by one arts entrepreneur with a track record of throwing events in abandoned buildings and two hundred thousand dollars in grant and loan money to invest. There was no need for a massive intervention by the state, there was no call for an out-of-town partner, and there is no reason why that couldn’t happen here.

The mayor may be right about the NJEDC’s motivations. It wouldn’t be the first time that the money was pulled from a project because of a petty feud between politicians. But if the existence of an arts center is contingent on harmonious relations between two politicians, that’s no arts center at all. It’s indicative of a project with no real roots in the community — one that can blow away like a tumbleweed at the wave of the hand of an elected official. Those aren’t the sorts of institutions we ought to be building. We don’t need a glamorous piece in a power game played at a level well over the heads of ordinary citizens. We don’t need arts-institutional equivalent of one of those residential skyscrapers that, jammed on a city block, ruins the walkability of an entire neighborhood. The Pompidou x project never fit the human scale of the arts scene in Jersey City, and its rapid evaporation in the heat of budgetary reality should come as a surprise and disappointment to no one. Once this circus leaves town, we’ll be fine. We’ll continue building this scene the way we have been, dollar by modest dollar, brick by boring brick, until we’ve got a sturdy platform we all can stand on.

Tris McCall has written about art, architecture, performance, politics, and public culture for many publications, including the Newark Star-Ledger, the Bergen Record, Jersey Beat, the Jersey City Reporter,...