Is Government Transparency an Arts Issue?

sunlight_large_for_printMore than one person has questioned me about why the DC Advocates for the Arts included Government Transparency in our issues on our Arts Advocacy Day March 3rd, 2010. I recently received the following from the Sunlight Foundation by Jerrol LeBaron, and think it does a great job outlining what advocates locally, and across the country, are working for regarding transparency. In doing that, the piece clarified for me why government transparency is a public policy issue for the arts.

“Transparency is key to keeping legislators, agencies and politicians in line. But there are two types of transparency:

1. Transparency after the fact.
2. Transparency before the fact.

Transparency after the fact is something we have to some degree in the US.  For example, we know about the final versions of laws that are passed, after they have been passed. Well, that is better than nothing. However, the law has been passed and it is too late to reverse it.

Transparency before the fact is something that hardly exists at all at the state and congressional levels. Transparency before the fact would mean that the final, final version of the bill is available to everyone several days in advance of the vote.

Now, that is real transparency! This provides a way for citizens to find out about legislators who are serving special interests before the law is passed. This provides us with the opportunity to get our voices heard before the law is passed.  Now that is a much better form of transparency.

Imagine if each government agency was required to display to the American people their final, final versions of rules and laws and budgets many days before they were allowed to make them official.

Transparency before the fact creates and inspires community activism and unity. It also helps to increase proper representation and accountability.

Transparency after the fact helps in those areas and is needed, but it also contributes to apathy and is less important than transparency before the fact. — because it is already too late — the damage has been done.”


I think that transparency is an arts issue because the numbers really are where the rubber meets the road. We should know where the government is planning to spend our money, as well as where they have spent it.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.