Art and Education, an Interview with the New Performing Arts Center Director

By Skyler Wolf 

Renee Bodie has recently taken the position of Director of the Performing Arts Center after Soka’s founding PAC director, David Palmer, retired last year. Bodie formerly directed the Levitt Pavilion, where she programmed and produced hundreds of shows, and helped the Pavilion win the “Best Live Music Venue” award multiple years in a row. Bodie hopes to enrich the education of Soka by intermingling it with the arts presented at the PAC.  “I feel very honored to build on the foundation that David Palmer began here at the PAC and to be able to carry it successfully into the future,” Bodie said. “Getting it better and better every year would be amazing. I love Soka, and I love the opportunity to be able to program this beautiful hall. I really do.” To get to know the new director better, Pearl reporter Skyler Wolf sat down with Bodie to talk about her career and plans for the Soka Performing Arts Center. 

Skyler Wolf: What got you into the arts?  

Renee Bodie: I was a musician first. I was a songwriter actually, and I played guitar and it just kind of happened. I was actually putting on a birthday party with friends of mine and I created a show around it because all of my friends are musicians. So we did performances, you know, like a show, one after another, and at the end of it my friends all looked at me and said: “You did that so well, it was run so well, why don’t you start presenting us in some way?” So I did look into it and I started presenting some of my friends and creating concerts around their shows and then I just kept getting bigger and bigger and started producing concert events in many places and I was asked to do music conferences and it just kind of morphed. I guess my career found me, in a way, and I just found I was good at it. I was good at producing music and I had a knack for it. So it grew, and of course I, through various jobs, went through the ladder. My last job was actually as executive director of Levitt Pavilion in greater Los Angeles and Pasadena, and in that position I ran two venues and we produced five shows in each venue per week so that was a much larger number of shows for me. I moved into Huntington Beach with my fiancée and this job became available and that’s how I ended up here. 

SW: What made you choose a school like Soka?  

RB: I knew Soka early on. When Soka University was up in Calabasas I used to go there for various events and walk on the grounds, it was a beautiful campus. I lived very close to there for many years, so I was aware of Soka. So when I moved to Huntington I was looking around for a performing arts center position, and seeing that it was at Soka was a huge plus for me. I just love the philosophy, and all of it was just perfect. 

SW: What, of all the ‘arts’, inspires you the most and why?  

RB: All types of music inspire me because what inspires me is the creative process and creative spirit, but also what it does for the audience, what it does for the listener. Because what I think is really important in the arts is that communication between artist and listener. There’s almost a magical experience that is created, and I think it actually uplifts and it just makes our lives better. Throughout all of history when you look at even devastating circumstances, like war, or even the Holocaust, art didn’t go away, it was the one way that people could express their human spirit, and expressing their humanity was important, most important in those times. I think that why I love music and why I love what I do is because it’s the fullest expression of who we are as human beings, and it crosses all boundaries—it is a great connector between peoples of all backgrounds. When I worked at Levitt Pavilion we had an outdoor venue and we used to have people who were families next to homeless people next to a businessman in his suit, and everybody was listening to the same performance, and they were connecting on that, they were having a shared experience, all of those people of different backgrounds, swaying to the music and it was an absolutely beautiful thing to see. 

SW: What, in your opinion, is the goal of the Performing Arts Center? 

RB: I feel like the PAC always points to the mission of Soka University itself, and I think it helps to bring awareness to the university, it’s part and parcel of who we are, in other words, the PAC is exemplary of exactly who we are as Soka University of America, a very high-quality institution. Our hall is this beautiful Yasuhisa Toyota-created hall, and he was a master acoustician. It’s an exquisite acoustic hall. … We always strive for excellence and to me, that’s just exemplary of who we are. So the more that people see it, the more that they hear these beautiful performances, they are changed, they are uplifted, which is exactly what I think we do at Soka. It also is a way of attracting the kind of students that need to be at Soka as well. It’s just a beautiful way of expressing who we are, just like music expresses who we are as individuals, I think what we do at the PAC presents who we are as well, and that’s the goal.  

SW: In your opinion, why should students show up to musical performances, Critical Conversations, or other events?  

RB: Because it expands their awareness and their experiences in life. One thing I want to bring up, I don’t know how many are aware of this, but we do have a student committee we created this year for the PAC where we are going to have the students get involved in programming shows, which is our goal for the committee. We gave them one show in April that the students can curate and program and bring a band of their choice in. I would love to see more and more students get involved in that. I would love for the students to tell us what they want in the PAC. What is it that they would also like to see? What can we do to engage the students in the PAC? While it’s both true that coming to the performances already scheduled and seeing genres you’re not used to is a beautiful thing to expand your awareness, it’s also true that we want to program events that the students want to come to. 

SW: How does the Soka PAC connect art with education?  

RB: Soka’s philosophy of education is to create global citizens. Experiencing all the genres of music that are out there, including all of the world music, for instance, that comes from various countries, also helps us to connect with who we are as human beings on this planet. It helps us understand other cultures, and I think that’s really important. I also think that educating yourself with different genres of music is a beautiful thing. They’ve proven that people who listened to music when they were in their infancy do better at math. Music is a huge part of how our brains work. It’s a very significant part of a well-rounded education. And we do have music instructors on this campus, so it’s all part in parcel. 

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