November 1, 2007 by  
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Arts merge for common cause

In 2005, an idea struck Rodney Waters; and since then, it hasn’t left him. In fact, it’s still growing. He worked on projects for non-profit organizations before, but this time, he’d do it bigger and much better. Hence, Mukuru Arts for AIDS was born.

Named for the African god of kindness, Mukuru is a series of concerts, dance and theater programs, as well as an art exhibit and auction that are meant to bring communities together and raise awareness about HIV/AIDS issues. Mixing altruism and art, local and national artists showcase their talent to support AIDS Foundation Houston. “Maybe it’s because I have undiagnosed ADD or something,” says Waters, the artistic director of Mukuru. “I really like variety.” All of the proceeds are matched by the National AIDS Fund to help the local cause.

While a college student in New York City, Waters volunteered in an English conversation program, where he helped immigrants and others with their language skills. During this time, he taught everyone from Korean businessmen to Costa Rican construction workers.

After graduation, Waters, an avid music lover, moved to Houston and took a position as a staff pianist at Rice University. Although he felt like he had a good career, Waters says he felt something was missing in his life.

He soon came in contact with Interfaith Ministries where he met Julie Eberly, who introduced him to AIDS Foundation Houston. While helping students and families from around the world, Waters realized he could combine his love of volunteerism with his passion for music.

And finally, his idea took root in the form of Mukuru.

Now in its third season, Mukuru combines artists from all types of genres into a single cause. Unlike other one-time events to help support an organization, each month through May, a new artistic adventure awaits.

“It’s been great,” says Waters. “The program has grown quite a bit since we started. We have made good inroads with the Houston art community and we are raising money for awareness in our communities.”

Mukuru has been exciting for AIDS Foundation Houston in that it focuses attention on the needs of local HIV awareness and education, says Eberly, vice president of development for the organization.

The funds raised by Mukuru stay local and are matched by organizations including the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

“Any dollar given could be the dollar that helps prevent someone from getting HIV,” Eberly says.

While Waters could have chosen any cause for the Mukuru program, as an artist, he found many of his peers were affected in some way by the affliction.

“So many people in the artistic community have had their lives touched by HIV or AIDS,” he says. “We could have done the same thing with other causes in a wide variety of ways, but there are people in the artistic community who have seen their lives or the lives of people close to them change.”

In the coming months, Mukuru’s events include a sky-watching experience and concert, as well as a chance to nab an emerging artist’s original piece of work.

This year, the Mukuru auction and exhibition features local and national artists at Gremillion &Co. Fine Art Gallery, 2501 Sunset Blvd, on Nov. 8. Participants can nibble on hors d’oeuvres and sip cocktails while enjoying various art pieces, or bid on original works. All of the artists have donated auction items; bidding opens online before the event at

“We’re giving artists the chance to do what they want, and when people have a chance to be creative and interesting, they are incredibly generous,” Waters says.

However, Eberly says the project is much more than giving artist their own avenue for expression. “When you hear the music or see the dancing, it touches the audience and causes them to become alive and engaged,” she says. “These artists come to the table with their passion and their own personal time and talents to connect their art with a social cause.”

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