Open letter to Kansas governor Sam Brownback

by Laura Zabel • Jun. 1

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Dear Governor Brownback:

I lived in Kansas for 20 years. From ages 2 to 22. I was educated in Kansas – both in the public schools and at the University of Kansas. I love the Midwest – its seasons, its open space, its practicality. I’m the kind of person it should be easy to get to stay there. So, why don’t I live in Kansas anymore?

I packed my truck to move to Minnesota the night I finished my last commitment at the University. In the last 13 years I can safely tell you that no one--not one single person--has ever asked why I left Kansas. Because my career is in the arts. The assumption is that, because I wanted to make a career and a living in the arts, I had to leave Kansas.

It’s not impossible to make a living in the arts in Kansas – I have many friends who are making a go of it—but the opportunities are scarce. And you’ve just made those opportunities even scarcer by eliminating support for the Kansas Arts Commission. The short-sightedness and recklessness of this decision have been well documented. A loss of over a million dollars in national and regional matching funds, loss of opportunities for children to participate in creative expression, loss of jobs – none of those things have swayed you. So I’m not optimistic that this story will either, but maybe it will make the reality of your action a little more tangible.

What is the consequence when one 22 year old with a theater degree from one of the best programs in the region decides they can’t stay in Kansas to make their life and their career? Who cares? Does that really have any impact on the state’s health or economy?

There’s a financial consequence: In the last 13 years, I’ve paid approximately $22,000 in state income taxes and $15,000 in state sales tax. I bought a car, a house, had a wedding – all in Minnesota. That money could have gone to the Sunflower State instead of the Gopher State.

Beyond that, since I moved to Minnesota, my entire family has moved here, too. They moved here, in part, because they also care about the arts. None of them work directly in the arts, but they see cultural opportunity as a necessary part of a community they want to live in. So, three adult children who grew up in Kansas, took advantage of its public education and other services and then chose to pay their taxes, make their livelihood, volunteer, vote and serve in another state. Plus, two retired parents who made their whole careers in Kansas, who then chose to spend their retirement years and income in another state.

Just for the 5 members of my immediate family who have relocated to Minnesota, I estimate that Kansas has given up about $100,000 in state and sales tax income so far (not to mention the numerous other ways that we contribute to the local economy.) By that calculation, your veto of the Arts Commission budget only has to convince a handful of young, energetic college graduates that they’d be better off somewhere else for Kansas to be worse off financially because of this decision.

And those are just the direct actions that I feel confident tying to the lack of opportunity and support for the arts in Kansas. But there are also ripple effects: my siblings and I have six young children who will grow up expecting and understanding the value of vibrant support for culture and who will have little incentive to locate their lives in Kansas. In short, Governor Brownback, I think you’ve lost this family for good.

And that makes me sad. Kansas is a wonderful place-a great place to raise children, with a beautiful landscape and a surprisingly diverse population. There are also really excellent cultural opportunities in Kansas. Just not enough of them to keep me there.

Your actions have taken away opportunities for young people to find their voice, for citizens to make their communities better, and for the cultural traditions of Kansas to be preserved. Your actions have taken away very real income opportunities and jobs for the state of Kansas. And you’ve made sure that no one ever will ask me why I left Kansas.

Sincerely,
Laura Zabel

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