Finding the Needle in the Haystack
Sitting casually in the expansive Grand Hall of the Whitman School, Diethard Struelens leans in when asked about his background.
“I’ve always said I’m an ordinary guy with extraordinary ambitions.”
Lucky for Syracuse University, those ambitions have landed the international student right in the heart of the College of Arts and Sciences (A&S), where he recently began coursework in the Janklow Arts Leadership program this July.
Born in Belgium, Struelens says he was drawn to the arts from an early age. In 2015, he completed his undergraduate degree in classical cello performance and chamber music at Zuyd University of Applied Sciences in Maastricht, Netherlands. But just a few short years prior to graduation, he tried his hand at business—starting his own company to help promote live music and young artists across Holland, Belgium and Germany. He ran the venture for two years before refocusing and completing his own music degree. Still, it was that brief time as the boss that forever changed his outlook on his future career.
“My first business let me discover I really wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Struelens remembers. “Visual arts, performing arts, architecture, graphic design—I have a lot of passion for all of it. But then the goals got bigger.”
So after graduation he did what any young aspiring impresario would do … he hit the Internet.
What Struelens found in his web search was the Whitman School of Management’s Entrepreneurship Bootcamp, which is held each fall. Soon he was making the 3,700-mile trip from Maastricht to New York to begin the rigorous weekend education sessions.
While exploring the autumn views on the Syracuse University campus at the end of the bootcamp program, fate stepped in again. By chance, he wandered into Bowne Hall and struck up a causal conversation with Christine Conroy, program coordinator for the Janklow Arts leadership program.
“You need to meet our director!” Conroy told him.
The very next day, Struelens met with the program’s founding director, Mark Nerenhausen. The rest, as they say, is history.
“We had such a vivid and passionate conversation. There are so many parallels between us,” remarked Struelens. “We starting talking about the Janklow program and I was straightaway interested. I never thought I would go to school again.”
The Janklow Program, housed in the department of art and music histories in A&S, operates at the intersection of arts administration and social entrepreneurship. Students in the program are able to earn a master’s degree in arts leadership across 15-months of concentrated, interdisciplinary coursework and immersion experiences.
Janklow students are also encouraged to become closely involved in the regional art community as volunteers. For Struelens, that opportunity appeared as a board member of Civic Morning Musicals, an organization that has a long and esteemed history of supporting weekly live classical music performances across Central New York.
“Immediately I found it to be a very interesting organization. I’m now at the core of a nonprofit organization that has been in existence since 1890. And they are still here. And they do it very well,” he says. “They are amazing people who are true ambassadors for music.”
Not one to slow down, Struelens is already laying the groundwork for his next chapter after graduation—a startup business called Artfuse, with goals to help young artists better connect with their audience and begin collaborations with other artists.
The whirlwind aspect of the last year is also not lost on him. He recognizes that there may have been entrepreneurial programs much closer to home. Regardless, he feels strongly that what he has found in Syracuse is his perfect match.
In the Netherlands it would be referred to as “naald in de hooiberg”. Stateside, we call it the “needle in the haystack.”
“I’m not searching for the American experience. I’m looking for the best experience,” Struelens asserts. “This is a very unique program and I’m grateful that I got to discover it.”