DAA dance class

DAA dance class

Children working on crafts at a DAA workshop

Children working on crafts at a DAA workshop

Created in 2008, Designing Artists Academy (DAA) is an annual summer arts camp in Tokyo that offers kids living in children’s homes (orphanages) a unique opportunity to experience different forms of art taught by professional artists from all over the world. Since the first camp back in 2009, our goals for the annual arts program have remained the same: encourage kids to think freely, discover new interests, and foster potential through mentoring. These goals are kept in clear focus through photography, painting, illustration, fashion design, craftwork, dance and music - each workshop planting seeds of hope for a brighter future. We are always looking for volunteer artists, camp counselors and general support staff. Next year will be our 10th anniversary of the camp. We have already commenced preparations, so if you would like to be involved in our camp for 2019, please contact amy@youmewenpo.org

For updates on DAA 2019 preparations, please visit the following link:

Amy Moyers-Knopp, camp founder, right    Miho Walker, DAA founding camp director, left

Amy Moyers-Knopp, camp founder, right

Miho Walker, DAA founding camp director, left

Amy Moyers-Knopp, camp founder

Back in 2008 while I was helping to develop another NPO that supported Tokyo children’s homes, I kept gravitating towards the idea of an art therapy camp. Rather funny in that I had no serious skills as an artist but what I could recall from my youth years in community theatre plays and nearly 10 years of dance class was that feeling of truly connecting with my inner self as well as the fact these activities often served as outlet for stress release when I had a bad day. So right there I knew you didn’t have to have a flair for the arts, have any specific skills, but rather just enough curiosity and thoughtful guidance to make an arts program meaningful for kids. Especially those kids who have PTSD, fears, anxiety and low self-confidence.

For me, I saw DAA as an outlet for children to open up and experience new ways of expressing themselves guided by positive role models. It was all about the experience and environment. Creating a safe, fun, relaxed space for kids to learn about themselves. So with a small group of talented friends, including Miho Walker, we set out to create our camp that could serve as an effective support program for our network of children’s homes. Convincing home staff of this [new to them] camp model took months and months of discussions. At one point, we weren’t sure if even 5 kids would sign up. But sure enough, we ended up that first year with more than 30 kids registered. We learned a lot that first year. Made a lot of improvements to the camp based on that first year. It was a stressful process at times but what we did see that very first summer was encouraging… kids coming out of their shell and experiencing positive relationships with adults. Kids discovering new skills and interests they didn’t see before. Kids seeing a peek of their true potential… it was a magical end to that first year’s camp and convinced us that we were on the right path. 

Miho Walker, DAA founding camp director

In 2008, I thought that it was an absolutely crazy idea when Amy suggested creating a summer camp for the orphans living in the children's homes that we were supporting. 

I've never been a camp counsellor, didn't even have any babysitting experience, and therefore creating a camp for 40 children was beyond anything imaginable. But I responded "Yes." Amy then organised a team of core volunteers and we started creating the first DAA under Amy's amazing guidance. It was tough the first year but it was a great success, and I will never forget the speech that one of the girls gave on the final day - that this was not just a camp for her but a growing experience that changed her entire summer, and that she looked forward to DAA next year. 

Back then which was 10 years ago, I understood the importance of DAA. But now that I have a 4-year old daughter and another baby girl on the way, I see DAA as "necessary" and not just important, because while both my daughters will be able to attend this type of summer camp every year, the children in the homes do not have the same opportunity without DAA. There are other free camps for these children in Tokyo, but they tend to be much shorter, perhaps 3-days maximum, which does not make it easy for children living in these homes to feel comfortable, open up, and fully immerse themselves. Additionally, since DAA recruits international artists, volunteers, and group mentors who are fluent in Japanese, the international environment combined with Japanese mentoring is a very impactful experience for the children.  I hope that we can keep DAA running for many more years to come.