This post originally appears on GJ Creates

At its best, public art has the power to inspire human connection, inform, and create social change. One recent GJ Creates project hits all three notes. If you haven’t visited downtown lately, make a stop to see “Mind Numbing” by Andrew Watson, located at 702 Main Street. The vibrant piece focuses on Grand Junction’s sordid past, specifically the Teller Indian School, an American Indian school founded in 1886.

When building The Shift lot in Downtown Grand Junction, GJ Creates jumped at the opportunity to design a mural walk to compliment the placemaking project.

Thanks to grants from Colorado Creative Industries and the Grand Junction Commission on Arts and Culture, GJ Creates was able to commission and install ten 8ft x 4 ft panel murals on the site, all painted by Grand Junction based artists.

Adding “Mind Numbing” to the Shift was an easy decision. The Shift is a new community gathering spot, and hosting artwork that spurs conversation helps create a more engaging and authentic destination.

These schools operated in the late 1800s and early 1900s forced acculturation of Native American children. The Teller Indian School, located at 2800 Riverside Parkway, is just a short drive from the heart of Downtown Grand Junction. Thanks to Watson’s mural, and recent discoveries across North America, the forgotten history of these schools are now being brought into the light.

Read more about the Teller Indian School through Mesa County Libraries

Watson’s mural features two eye-catching elements. The first is a vibrant red and blue painted mural featuring the words “Mind Numbing” and nine symbols. Each symbol features an activity forced upon school children including baseball, sewing, farming, and music.

The second element is a wheatpaste of a blog post by Mesa County Libraries librarians detailing the history of the school. Visitors can walk directly up to the mural and read about the atrocities of the school, and learn more about local history.

“Mind Numbing” has special significance for Watson, a working Navajo artist who now lives in Grand Junction. Born from a caucasian mother and a Navajo father made Watson an outcast with his surrounding peers. At an early age he discovered art, skateboarding and alternative music. Growing up in Arizona also provided him with a unique landscape and culture that manifested into a visual language in his work. His work is a balancing act of Navajo icons intercrossed with contemporary pop.

Though closed in 1911, the Teller name can still be found in Grand Junction. Named after United States Senator Henry Teller of Colorado, Teller Avenue is just eight blocks from historic Main Street, and just three blocks away from Chipeta Avenue and Ouray Avenue. Both streets honor prominent Ute Indian Chief Ouray and his wife Chipeta, the tribe victimized most by the Teller Indian School.

Through Watson’s art, we are able to acknowledge and confront our past with the hopes of learning from, and never repeating it.

The Shift

Above. Artist Andrew Watson and the wheat paste. Below. Picture of “Mind Numbing” on The Shift lot, located at 702 Main Street. The piece is one of 10 installed at this new placemaking project in Downtown Grand Junction.