By Candice Georgiadis
28 July 2020
I had the pleasure of interviewing Elizabeth Yntema.
Elizabeth Yntema is the President & Founder of the Dance Data Project®. She is a member of the Board of Trustees for WTTW/WFMT, the Advisory Board of the Trust for Public Land in Illinois and the Board of Directors of the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. Liza was graduated from the University of Virginia in 1980 and is 1984 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, where she was awarded the annual prize for Outstanding Contribution to Social Justice. Ms. Yntema is a past member of numerous organizations in the Chicagoland area, including the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Company, Women’s Bar Association, Winnetka Board of the Northwestern Settlement House, the Children’s Home and Aid Society, and the Junior League of Chicago, where she was named as Volunteer of the Year for her work advocating for homeless women and children.
Named to the final full year training cohort of The Philanthropy Workshop (TPW) in 2018, Liza spent a year honing her skills as part of “the next generation of strategic philanthropists.” TPW is a global network of over 450 selected philanthropists, from 22 countries.
Ms. Yntema has underwritten ballets for Sacramento and Pacific Northwest Ballets, the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Company and BalletX, including world premieres by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (Mammatus) & Stephanie Martinez’s (Bliss!) She has also supported works by Penny Saunders, Robyn Minenko Williams, Amy Seiwert and Eva Stone, as well as Nicolas Blanc and Christopher Wheeldon. Liza was Lead Sponsor of Crystal Pite’s work Solo Echo as part of the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of Hubbard Street Dance Company.
In May 2018, American Ballet Theatre announced the launch of its ABT Women’s Movement, a multi-year initiative supporting the creation of new works by female choreographers for the company. Ms. Yntema, along with the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and Rockefeller Brothers Fund, was an initial Principal Sponsor for this initiative and continues to support its development. Ms. Yntema recently joined the Boston Ballet’s multi-year initiative ChoreograpHER as a Lead Sponsor. Liza also actively supports the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s choreographic initiative for female students, New Voices.
Thank you so much for joining us Elizabeth! Can you tell us the “backstory” that brought you to this career path?
Iam the product of generations of strong women. My mother was Senior Editor at Atlantic Monthly Little Brown, and I remember visiting her offices as a child. After graduating from University of Michigan Law School, I moved to Chicago, where I worked for a management labor firm. Taking time off from full time work, I spent a great deal of time volunteering, and moved on to more organized philanthropy.
As I looked around not for profit board rooms, I observed that almost all of the important positions, the C-Suite, higher paying jobs, are held by men. It turned into a sort-of “cubicles and windows” test. I would walk into the back offices/working areas of charities, and would discover rows of young women in little airless boxes. When I came across an office with a window, I found it was far more likely to be inhabited by a man. Finally, I would get to the big corner offices, and here the occupants are almost exclusively middle-aged, white men.
I advocate for women and girls in all aspects of my life and work, but I realized that while classical dance is a global, multi-billion a year industry with hundreds of thousands of girls & women heading to class each week, it was also amenable to reform. I have no interest in beating my head against a wall. I want to make real, lasting change, rapidly. With ballet — the timing was right thanks to the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements and with the scandals at the largest US ballet company, The New York City Ballet, I am familiar with the world of classical dance.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
I think the most interesting story about DDP is how my team has pulled everything together, while working remotely, in such a short amount of time. The more I learn, the more I realize Dance Data Project® is upending how not for profits operate and charities are “supposed to be” run.
We will have produced 8 groundbreaking studies our first year, with a young team (oldest member besides me is mid 30s), dispersed throughout the US. All but my Research Director have other “gigs.” When senior fundraising professionals hear that DDP staff consultants are located in: Seattle, New York, Florida, Nashville, Utah, Chicago and its suburbs, their jaws hang open. However, I recently spoke with Jeremy Edwards, Senior Associate Dean, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago. He also works as a consultant for not-for-profits seeking transformational change. When I described how my team works and traditional fundraisers’ skepticism, he laughed and said that this is how all successful not-for-profits will be run in the future, as it eliminates excess overhead. As I said to him, “we don’t have meetings.”
Picture us in the Summer of 2018: My first hire was off pursuing a career as a consultant in New York City, but still “in the game” and helping us move beyond a data base to a public presence. Her intern, my now Research Director, had just graduated from university, and was pitching in part time, remotely from a small city in France where she taught school. My website designer is in the city, and his graphics wizard is on the West Coast. My amazing administrative assistant, also part time, was holding the fort back home while I was traveling. Committed to hiking the Northern Route of the Camino De Santiago, I ended up with my computer in my backpack, navigating tiny village to even smaller “not really there” places with super sketchy internet. So, everyone was giving feedback and editing from wildly different time zones. Yet, working together, and adjusting for schedules, we produced a gorgeous website featuring important content. DIY in the best possible way. Experimental, kind of out there, but it works.
Read the full article here.