The North Shore’s Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema descends from a storied line of relatives best described as, Yntema tells it, “life-long troublemakers.” Take Yntema’s ancestor John Proctor, who was hung as a witch in Salem. Yntema notes that the family maintains it was a “land dispute.” Or her grandmother Jean Busey, an early environmental and civil rights activist who referred to herself as a suffragist, and very rare for the times, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1920 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.
One of the stories that most dominated Yntema’s childhood, however, stems from her great grandfather, who helped found the Busey Bank in Champaign-Urbana. Prior to the Great Depression, he paid out his depositors on at least three occasions during financial panics. “I was told that story repeatedly growing up as a reminder of what integrity looks like,” says Yntema.
Later generations will likely hear tales of innate integrity within Yntema herself. When we were first introduced to Yntema for her 2017 profile in Sheridan Road, we learned of her commitment to philanthropy and dogged pursuit of gender equity, especially in the arts community. She has been a long-time supporter of organizations from the Chicago Park District, the Joffrey Ballet, and Hubbard Street Dance Company, to the Harris and Auditorium Theaters, and Holy Trinity High School. She also currently serves on the Board of WTTW, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Advisory Council for the Trust for Public Land. Yntema is also a sponsor of the ABT Women’s Movement program, a multi year initiative to support women in choreography.
And, although she initially resisted starting her own nonprofit, she launched the Dance Data Project® (DDP), in 2015 to highlight the persistent gender opportunity and funding inequalities in classically based dance.
“No one else was producing the data demonstrating the lack of female equality in ballet—an across the board phenomenon in the arts sector generally,” explains Yntema. “Deciding to create DDP was grounded in a systematic needs-based analysis—although I was, and still am—“good and mad.” Yntema offers, “I am not even close to brilliant, I just listen carefully, and respond well to new information and better ideas.”
This spring, DDP released its second, updated Artistic & Executive Leadership Report, which demonstrates persistent gender inequity among artistic and executive directors of the largest 50 ballet based companies in the U.S.
The new report shows women earn only an average of 63 cents for every dollar their male counterparts receive as artistic directors. In addition to being significantly underpaid compared to men, DDP’s updated study demonstrates that women are underrepresented in artistic leadership, holding only 25 percent of positions within the largest 50 companies. That number drops to 10 percent for the biggest ballet companies, who together account for 62 percent of the overall top 50 company combined budgets.