Joe Cozart has been named executive director of the Public Arts Commission, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing and enhancing public art offerings in Greater Grand Forks for residents and visitors.

Cozart assumes the full-time position that has been held by Kristi Wilfahrt, PAC’s interim executive director since May 2020.

In his new role, Cozart brings 20 years’ experience as a general manager with Disney hotels and parks in Florida. After retiring from Walt Disney World Resorts in 2017, he worked in temporary-assignment, general managerial positions in hotels across the country, he said. One such assignment brought him to Grand Forks’ Ramada Inn. He moved here from Orlando, Fla., in 2018.

Cozart’s hospitality experience with the Disney organization “is invaluable to our nonprofit,” said Barry Wilfarht, chairman of PAC’s nine-member board. In Cozart, the PAC board “has found the right person to raise funds for more public art, as well as lead our nonprofit to make Grand Forks a national leader on the Great Plains in public arts through a public-private partnership.”

“(Cozart) brings extensive management, nonprofit, event-planning, marketing and branding experience to PAC,” said Wilfahrt, president and CEO of The Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. “We are delighted to find someone with his extensive experience to enhance public art in Greater Grand Forks.”

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

Cozart said, “I have a broad background in the arts and a real passion for the arts,” which, along with financial expertise, will be valuable in his work with PAC.

PAC’s funding is mostly from the private sector, he said, and could be augmented with local and state government grants. He will focus his efforts “primarily on businesses that love the arts and want to donate and/or sponsor events so that we can continue bringing in the arts and bringing the community to the arts,” he said.

“Our main focus is the public art pieces – approximately 165 public art pieces that have been in Grand Forks since the beginning of the last century,” he said. The PAC board is planning to catalog them “in some type of a book, which will have a historical value as well as a mapping value, to make (Grand Forks) more of a destination.” Such a publication will raise public awareness of art installations here, he said.

Another goal is to provide the community with galleries, in addition to those PAC has established at the Alerus Center, Altru’s south campus and City Hall, along with "pop-up galleries” to help artists exhibit and sell all types of art, Cozart said.

He’ll use his leadership experience to “inspire PAC board members to unlock their potential, increase their awareness, become more responsible and grow,” he said.

“And then doing that with the artists as well, making the artists feel inspired, that this is a vehicle for them, that PAC is a right fit – and making it a right fit for all artists.”

Inclusivity and diversity were important aspects of his training, he said. “Making sure everyone feels included if they want to be.”

“The fact that PAC wants to be a leader in arts in this region is inspiring to me,” Cozart said.

He accepted the job of executive director, because “I realized that everything they’re looking to achieve is right in my wheelhouse,” he said, noting that his experience and expertise equip him to work with the board, private investors, artists, the community, foundations and the park districts.

"In these challenging times, artists and the community need public art more than ever to provide aesthetic and cultural benefits," Cozart said. "Public art helps create community pride and makes a city interesting, enticing visitors to explore. Art adds to our high quality of life here."