Perot Helped Shape Dallas’ Arts Scene

Nationwide, Ross Perot was known as an eccentric Texas billionaire who launched two unsuccessful presidential bids.

In Dallas, he's known, among other things, as the man whose name is on one of the city's better-known museums.

Perot died Tuesday after a five-month battle with leukemia, a family spokesman confirmed to CNN. He was 89.

A self-made billionaire and founder of Electronic Data Systems, Perot was one of the largest supporters of Dallas' arts and cultural offerings, said Jennifer Scripps, director of the city's Office of Cultural Affairs.

"I think that you would not have a Dallas arts scene that you would recognize without his support and generosity," Scripps said.

One of his greatest contributions was a $10 million donation he made to the building fund for the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, home of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. That contribution allowed the city to bring in renowned architect I.M. Pei to work on the project, Scripps said.

When the concert hall opened in 1989, it came on the heels of an economic downturn that was a major setback for the city, Scripps said, and the building represented a turning point in the city's arts scene, setting a new standard for every cultural landmark that came after it.

"The Meyerson upped the game for all of the subsequent performing arts venues and cultural centers in the city," she said.

Private philanthropy has played a major role in the arts in most major cities going back to the time of the Medicis, Scripps said, and Dallas is no different. Perot was one of a few business leaders who recognized, as Dallas was coming into its own, that the city needed cultural amenities if it hoped to attract talented people who could find work in any city they liked. Without financial support from those families, it's unlikely the city would have the rich cultural scene that it does, she said.

Scripps said the Perot Museum of Nature and Science is a good example of how a single large gift can spur an entire project into being. Perot's five children donated $50 million toward the construction of the museum, which Scripps said is now one of the city's best attended attractions.

In a statement, museum officials said Perot's legacy "will endure and continue to serve as inspiration in fulfilling our mission."

"Mr. Perot enlivened the museum with his generous and caring spirit and served as an example of kindness, compassion, and innovation," according to the statement.