Eiteljorg Insider: Embracing Change with Grace – From Ballerina to Vice President
By Camryn Daniels, former marketing and communications intern
Nataly Lowder is the Eiteljorg Museum’s Vice President for Advancement. In this position, she strategizes the museum’s fundraising and leads the museum’s development and marketing teams. She also spearheaded the Project 2021 capital/endowment campaign, a fundraising effort that exceeded its goal of $55 million. However, before her tenure at the Eiteljorg, she was a professional classical ballerina, an instructor, and an artistic director, which led to her role as a nonprofit executive.
Nataly began dancing at the age of seven and her love of blossomed immediately. By age 15, she was enrolled at the National Academy of Arts, a performing arts boarding school in Urbana-Champaign, Illinois. Every day, she spent a majority of her waking hours perfecting her craft. During her time dancing pre-professionally, she was unwittingly gaining leadership skills that would greatly benefit her in the future.
At 18, Nataly began her professional dancing career, touring with many companies including some that unfortunately no longer exist. As a principal dancer, or the dancer with the highest rank within a company, she performed as the lead many times. Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty ballet was her favorite character that she played. But that was not always the case – prominence is fickle in the dance industry, and Nataly saw her fair share of the “back row” of the performance. It comes with the territory. Nataly’s radical acceptance of change allowed her to remain during a career in which casts would change every six months.
“Sometimes you’re the lead and sometimes you’re not,” Nataly said. “You have to learn how to handle both with grace. You have to learn how to accept getting that main role and being kind to the people who didn’t get it, and vice versa.” It was good advice in her later career opportunities.
Alongside dancing professionally, Nataly also served as the liaison for her dance company’s board of directors, mediating conflicts between performers and the board. Nataly said she realized that if she wanted to transition to the business side of the arts after performing, she would need her bachelor’s degree. Nataly studied arts administration at Butler University in Indianapolis while continuing her dance career. She learned the fundamentals of not-for-profit administration, strategic communication and fundraising. Being a working student, Nataly simultaneously learned in the classroom and out of it, performing as a cabaret artist, guest performing and guest teaching classical ballet around the United States, all while earning her degree.
After 14 years of performing professionally, Nataly knew it was time to move forward from classical ballet – despite her love of it, the years of strenuous training were taking their toll on her body. She became a ballet and classical jazz instructor, a choreographer, program creator and director. She worked with the Jordan Academy of Dance at Butler University building summer programs for pre-professional dancers, and later with the Ballet Theatre of Carmel at Performer’s Edge, as the founding artistic director of Ballet Theatre of Carmel and director of ballet programs. Her experience in these positions, specifically in marketing and fundraising, set the stage for her first professional endeavor outside of the world of dance.
“I was one of those employees who would come up with an idea and I’d pitch it to the powers that be, and nine times out of 10, they’d say ‘Nataly, we’d love to do that program but we just don’t have the money,’” she said. “Many times, they would offhandedly say, ‘If you could find the money, we can probably do the program,’ not anticipating that I would find it.”
Making a decision to hone her skills in fundraising, she worked as a major gift officer for the Indiana University School of Medicine Office of Gift Development for nearly five years. Here, she continued to fine-tune her knowledge in the midst of the University’s $2.5 billion bicentennial campaign.
The skills she gained in this position, her discipline and leadership skills from her time as a dancer, and being in the process of earning her master’s degree in public administration/nonprofit management made her the perfect candidate for the position that opened at the Eiteljorg Museum in 2016.
“I was not looking for a job, which is how a lot of jobs come about, and I got a phone call from a friend who said ‘Nataly, there is an opening at the Eiteljorg Museum and I think you need to go after it.’” Initially, Nataly believed her friend was joking, because she had no background in visual arts, history or museums. “’A good fundraiser is a good fundraiser, and a good leader is a good leader. That’s what they need in this position,’” her friend had said to her. So, she applied. A big change had never stopped her before. Her broad background in fundraising and marketing qualified her to lead a team of people that specialized in different areas of expertise.
Nataly’s husband, Jonathan, is very active in Eiteljorg events.
Being accepting of change has allowed her to excel as a leader and an influential force in the Indianapolis community. When asked what advice she had for her younger self, facing a world full of uncertainty, she said, smiling:
“Dream — Don’t stop dreaming just because you hit another decade. When you hit 30, 40 or beyond, don’t stop dreaming. Also, staying optimistic and finding the positivity in all situations — which is not always easy to do — is very important.” Lastly, “Make sure you don’t burn any bridges! Sometime in your career, you’re probably going cross that person’s path again.”
Nataly has now been working with the museum for seven years. The unmistakable passion she possesses for ballet is akin to her passion for doing great work in the museum and in downtown Indianapolis, and the Eiteljorg is all the better for it.