OAKLAND -- Montclair is getting an artistic makeover.

Daniel Swafford, executive director of the Montclair Village Association, has made it his mission to bring art to the village, tucking murals and art installations in every suitable nook and cranny he can find, from vacant storefronts to Montclair pond, and now, the three utility boxes that dot the village.

"We are taking ownership of our community," Swafford said. "We took advantage of the utility boxes scattered around the village."

The project, funded by the Montclair Village Association, commissioned a trio of local artists -- Dan Fontes, Caroline Stern and James Swinson -- to depict flowers native to Oakland.

"It's more personal and educational," Fontes said. "This is an appropriate subject. A lot of people don't know that Oakland has a flower, the Oakland star tulip, named after it."

The artists have been collaborating on creating public art and murals for two decades and their work can be seen around the city.

However, this is their first outdoor endeavor in Montclair.

"Montclair is this dreamy little fantasy community where everything works. I've never worked in the place where people were 100 percent supportive. Even the kids were enthusiastic," Fontes said.

"Public art has an impact on creating neighborhood identity. An attractive streetscape encourages people to come out and visit, and be involved," Swafford said.

"People just love their neighborhood," Stern said. "Our city has so much to offer. We love architecture and natural beauty. We want to make it a better place to live. Creativity helps to heal."

"To be able to do creativity at all is a beautiful thing," Swinson said. "We all have our individual artistic endeavors. When we have a visual end that justifies its means, it's a wonderful accomplishment. You have to fight for your creative right. It's not something that is given to you."

Each artist has an individual niche. Stern specializes in fine art and decorative painting. Her work can be seen in many homes and restaurants in the area. She has joined forces with Fontes on many public art and mural projects.

Fontes is a muralist by trade with a long list of projects.

Swinson is a contemporary painter gravitating toward multimedia materials in many of his pieces. He has partnered with Stern for two decades, doing faux finish in homes and restaurants.

After completing the utility boxes, the artist trio moved into Crogan's, giving the restaurant a new look by painting murals of Oakland landmarks, depicting the city's history and culture, on the walls of the dining room.

"I love having art in the community. I think it is great. It makes a community more unique and beautiful. It's just what we need. It puts us on the map," said Christine Dougherty, a Montclair resident and artist.

"Whether it's other parts of the country or Oakland, there is a resurgence of street art," Swafford said. "People are embracing opportunities to make things more beautiful. Taking a utility box that is blight and making it attractive. It gives personality to a neighborhood. That's why it's fun to live here. Each neighborhood is unique in atmosphere, food and small businesses."

FYI
To view more of the artists' work, go to www.danfontes.com, www.decoartoakland.com and www.cangalleryart.com.