DC Arts Advocacy Day Promotes Local Budget Transparency


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:

DC Arts Advocacy Day

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.

Original Publication URL: https://sunlightfoundation.com/blog/2012/03/07/dc-arts-advocacy-day-promotes-local-budget-transparency/

Supporting Data: notes from #TCamp2010

I am a strong believer in Art as part of public life. Art is not separate from government, society, education, development, family, or community. Some people think that Art is a set aside, but I think Art is real, and worth supporting in a real way. Government transparency is actually quite similar. Government transparency is now a very broad term of art (sic) and like Art, you have to understand the mechanisms of transparency to design effective support for it.

Thanks to Google, the Sunlight Foundation, and iStrategy Labs, I was able to attend Transparency Camp 2010 (#tcamp2010) a few weekends ago on the campus of George Washington University. One of my earliest 4468341210_6828b8d22bcontacts at the conference involved stumbling into Laurel Ruma in a discussion of regional government efficiency. She is one of the editors of the new bible of Open Government, conveniently enough titled: Open Government. In Beth Simone Noveck’s article Single Point of Failure in that book, Noveck writes, “When the public cannot see how decisions are arrived at, it cannot identify problems and criticize mistakes. Accountability declines and so does government effectiveness.” This is one of the central arguments for transparency: efficiency.

Oepn-Government-CoverThere was general agreement at TCamp on the need for case studies showing cost savings from agencies and local governments; ie. existing agency costs for services, integration of open government initiatives, and comparative agency costs post-integration. Technology is allowing enhanced services, but in this economy the ability to show immediate cost savings over current service delivery is critical (and viable.) In its most limited application that looks like: if you save yourself 5 or 10 FOIA requests, that will more than pay for the cost of a data-sharing site, and then you never have to incur that FOIA cost again. But it goes into city planning, emergency services, etc.

There are a variety of arguments opposing transparency, including:

1 – “It’s my data, you can’t have it”
2 – The basic fear that if data is shared someone will find something that should have been hidden.
3 – “Security reasons”

It seems that economic efficiency and political leadership are creating the required momentum to overcome these challenges, stimulated by a growing base of activists. In TCamp sessions there was discussion of tethering of data (for security) and un-tethering of expertise and participation. There was also discussion of how transparency can facilitate non-industry public positively penetrating deeper into expert fields. This was echoed in Open Government (by Malamud and others), and I hope I’m an example of it.

I was intrigued by the discussion of the need to control data flood, and find ways to make data local (and the need to distinguish between high value and low value data.) Massive new streams of data make interfaces (applications) more important, and iteratively, the standards for the creation and storing of data. Computer work is an industry, and as in politics, there is a real benefit to leading this movement. As Colleen Gray shared in her post about #TCamp2010, local government transparency “is a promising trend.”

For many of us at the conference we see that there is a roll for data and data development in policy creation, and this extends out of the purely public sector. I was intrigued to learn of the World Bank’s new transparency initiative that would make payments from loans public data. Most of the work done by governments and non-profits has nothing to do with public safety and security, and providing open access to data (and stimulating innovation in presenting and sharing that data) is a great way to encourage community participation and support.