When you think about your typical advocate for government transparency, who comes to mind? I bet lawyers, bloggers, teachers, Tea Partyers, maybe even environmental activists, but not artists. Right? For many, the connection between artists and the government — let alone the governing process — is unclear, but the reality is that government decisions have a direct impact on the creative community, and artists know it. Our federal government and most local and state governments provide specific agency support for the arts and humanities and make important budgetary decisions about programming and grant-funding that effects the work of individual artists, curators and entrepreneurs.
Although many communities (and most states) have arts advocacy groups that tackle promotion of arts-friendly policies and funding, DC (Sunlight’s home “state”) is one of the only places I know of where the advocates pair their message with one close to our heart: Transparency. The DC Advocates for the Arts (DCAA) believe that a transparent process is essential to their work: How can you advocate for increased funding in an upcoming fiscal year or provide recommendations for compromises and reallocation of resources if you can’t even see the budget in question? As the DCAA wrote in their primer for DC Arts Advocacy Day 2011:
In order to achieve the most effective policies, for today and for tomorrow, the DC Advocates for the Arts support ongoing initiatives in Government Transparency. We specifically support availability of information “before the fact.” Not all government work can be released in process, but transparency “after the fact” prevents public input, and reduces public participation.
We ask that the District make public the programming and granting program budgets for Arts and Humanities support in the District, and encourage public input in any revisions of those programs.
Now, full disclosure, I’ve received funding from the DC Commission for the Arts & Humanities and sit on the board of the DC Advocates, but these principles of transparency were on the DCAA docket before I got involved. Robert Bettmann, the DCAA’s chair, has been a long-time TransparencyCamp attendee and I’d like to think that Arts Advocacy Day 2012, slated for next week (March 14th), was planned to fall smack-dab in the middle of Sunshine Week (a national celebration of government transparency) for a reason.
“Transparency” is not a single issue. It’s a civic issue. Whether you’re an artist or a miner or a political blogger or a full-time developer or hunter or homicide reporter, how the government does its job — and whether we, the citizens, are brought into the process and shown how the sausage gets made — counts. That’s why Sunlight is proud to partner with other local groups in DC Arts Advocacy Day and why we invite you to join us:
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Wilson Building (the District’s city hall)
We’ll post with more details as we have them, but for now, you can find out more information about DC Arts Advocacy (and register to attend!) here.
Whether you identify as a DC local or work as a “Washingtonian” in the DMV, if you care about open government, Arts Advocacy Day is a unique opportunity to stand with creatives and send a message to DC’s local government about the power of sunlight in the budget process. Hope to see you there.