Dirk Nowitzki leads the charge to make the Perot Museum more inclusive, less intimidating

The Perot Museum of Nature and Science is Dirk Nowitzki’s happy place.

He and his wife, Jessica, and their three young kids love to visit the dinosaurs and taxidermied wildlife, virtually race the cheetah and dig for faux fossils.

“They have a blast there,” the retired Dallas Mavericks great said of his 8-year-old daughter and sons, 6 and 5.

The family avoids peak hours so that the giant among Munchkins doesn’t add to the happy chaos.

So it was a slam dunk when the museum asked Dirk and Jessica to be brand ambassadors for the yearlong celebration leading up to the museum’s 10th anniversary bash this fall.

“This was a great fit for us,” Nowitzki said in a recent Zoom interview. “The kids are absolutely hooked. It’s a great, great space to learn. It gets kids engaged, and they learn without really knowing that they’re learning.

“Their motto is inspiring young minds, and I want to say, our kids are inspired.”

But this year isn’t about looking in the rearview mirror.

It’s a tipoff for the museum’s plan for the next decade.

Call it the Perot Museum 2.0.

Linda Silver was recruited as CEO five years ago from a government technology development job in Abu Dhabi. “Everybody thought I was crazy moving to Texas in July until they heard where I was moving from,” she said with a laugh.

“I saw it as an opportunity to join this tremendous young organization that had its future ahead of it with a board and a community that was absolutely willing to vision very, very big and do what it takes to make it happen.” Silver said. “It still has that.”

But Silver quickly realized that the Perot had an identity problem. Disadvantaged people and those with less formal education were intimidated by the massive structure and didn’t feel like they belonged there.

“In the early days, we focused on the tremendous numbers of visitors that the museum was attracting, but we were less aware that those numbers weren’t as diverse as we wanted them to be,” she said.

Silver tapped board members Carolyn Perot Rathjen, executive director of the Perot Foundation, and private investor David Corrigan, one of the museum’s earliest and most ardent proponents, to come up with a game plan to move the museum forward.

The Perot 2.0 vision focuses on making programs more accessible and less daunting to a wider, more diverse audience with Disney-esque digital learning videos that align with school curricula throughout Texas, bilingual exhibit information and plans for a DART station on the museum property

Karen Katz, retired CEO of Neiman Marcus and chair of the museum’s board, said her affluent customers never have to give a second thought to getting to the Perot or paying for tickets.

“One of the most important things that we can do is to figure out how to reach much more deeply into those communities that don’t have that and really need exposure to STEM education.” she said. “It’s amazing how many of the original donors are still engaged. They realize that we still have a lot of hard work to do. I find it very inspiring.”

Tech Truck Dirk

This reboot has the Nowitzkis fired up.

“We know both transportation and cost can be barriers for families who want to experience all the Perot has to offer,” said Jessica, president of the Dirk Nowitzki Foundation. “We’re grateful for the museum’s work to drive STEM learning into underserved communities. This outreach, which is designed to bridge science learning gaps, is critically important, helping to ensure a bright future for all our community’s children.”

The Nowitzkis’ foundation quietly kicked in $10,000 three years ago to support the Tech Truck program.

These brightly colored vans — similar in size to those used by Amazon and UPS — deliver equipment and supplies to kids in underserved neighborhoods so they can do hands-on activities like the ones at the museum.

“It’s a great thing to bring these trucks to the communities so that the kids there can be able to learn by doing experiments,” Dirk said.

On April 12, the basketball great will be at the museum with a Tech Truck. The experience could be a game-changer for some of these kids, said Ross Perot Jr., who is co-chairing the anniversary countdown with Rathjen, his sister.

“When you bring in somebody like Dirk who is a pop icon, you attract the young minds that you want at the Perot Museum,” Perot said. “You want them to be stimulated by the science, the research and the possibilities of what they could do with their lives.

1/10Paralympian Élodie Tessier, right, tries to catch up Momentous School fifth grader Yuliana Sandoval as they race during an unveiling of the updated Speed Wall in the Lamar Hunt Family Sports Hall as part of the 10-year anniversary of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

2/10FC Dallas mascot Tex Hooper tries to stop Momentous School fifth grader Ian Munoz, left, at the Speed Wall.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

3/10Natalie Cook, right, high school cross country and track star from Flower Mound, races against Momentous School fifth grader Rodrigo Briones during an unveil of an updated speed wall in the Lamar Hunt family sports hall as part of the 10-year anniversary of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science on March 2 at the museum.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

4/10Paralympian Élodie Tessier, left, hands out autographs to Momentous School students after the unveiling of the Speed Wall.(Shafkat Anowar / Staff Photographer)

5/10The Perot Museum offers hands-on experiences for curious minds of all ages.(Courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science)

6/10Aspiring paleontologists examine fossils at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science.(Courtesy of the Perot Museum of Nature and Science)

7/10Emma Muñiz, 10, left, shows off her LEGO creation to her sister Elissa Muñiz, 10, right, during a Perot in the Park event at Kylde Warren Park in downtown Dallas on March 14.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

8/10Maria Valenzuela, 3, listens to Perot Tech Truck educator Facundo Soria, top center, as he explains the mechanics of robotic technology during the Perot in the Park event at Kylde Warren Park in downtown Dallas, on March 14. (Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

9/10Zayumi Arizmendi, 10, left, and her cousin Alisson Molina, 12, play the classic Nintendo game Super Mario Brothers on an oversize controller outside of the Perot Museum in downtown Dallas on March 14.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

10/10Dirk and Jessica Nowitzki pose in front of a Tech Truck at the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. They donated money to outfit the museum’s Tech Truck program to visit area schools.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

“Dirk is a deep draw.”

The 63-year-old chairman of the Perot Group knows this firsthand, having owned the Mavs when the team drafted the German 7-footer in 1998.

There’s another reason why the Nowitzkis think this is a cool assignment.

“Jess and I are celebrating our 10th wedding anniversary this year as well,” Dirk said. “So 10 and 10 is a perfect connection.”

Revisionist history

Fourteen years ago, Ross Perot Jr., Rathjen and their three sisters each kicked in $10 million toward the Perot Museum to honor Margot and the late Ross Perot Sr. and push fundraising past the $100 million goal needed to break ground.

After all, what can you give billionaire parents who’ve never made a big deal about money or status?

“My dad’s background was engineering, and my mom was a teacher,” said Rathjen. “This was really a perfect joining of their interests.

“Of all the really amazing things that we’ve been involved with through our parents, the Perot Museum is the one thing that all of us can walk into and find something for each of us,” she said. “Your child can be off looking at dinosaurs while you are focusing on the energy hall or the gems and minerals exhibit. There’s something fascinating about the content for everyone.”

But frankly, the patriarch didn’t immediately latch on to the vision. And once he did, Ross Sr. put a little revisionist history to work, claiming it was his idea from the get-go.

Matriarch Margot was an easier sell.

Texas oilman Forrest Hoglund and Ross Jr. took Margot on a private-jet field trip to see the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Hoglund had spearheaded efforts to transform Houston’s hall of relics into an expanded, dynamic home for engaging science experiences. He wanted to bring the same excitement to Dallas.

“When she saw all the school buses all lined up, Mother looked at me and said, ‘I want to do this,’” Ross Jr. said.

She’s made numerous subsequent gifts to what she proudly calls “the cherished community landmark.”

“I know that science is best learned through hands-on, engaging experiences that spark a child’s natural curiosity,” Margot said last week. “As the Perot Museum embarks on its next decade, I have no doubt it will continue to welcome, inspire and empower all its young visitors in new and innovative ways.”

Racing with the stars

Last month, three children of the late Lamar Hunt unveiled a revamped Speed Wall in the Lamar Hunt Family Sports Hall, which was one of the original exhibits in 2012.

Kids of all ages can race against sports celebrities on a track that runs along a huge video wall.

“Athletes retire, move on. So we refreshed with faces that are au currant,” said Sharron Hunt, chair of the Hunt Family Foundation.

Patrick Mahomes, star quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, replaced the team’s former running back Pro Bowler Jamaal Charles. FC Dallas midfielder Paxton Pomykal came in for goalie Richard Sanchez. Both teams are owned by the Lamar Hunt family.

“Of course, T. Rex didn’t change because he’s always going to be in vogue, right, as will be the cheetah,” said Lamar Hunt’s only daughter. “It’s important to connect with today’s audience.”

As part of the unveiling, delighted students from Momentous Institute of Dallas raced against in-the-flesh sports figures who are presented on the wall, including Élodie Tessier, a Paralympian wheelchair basketball player.

“The kids who came here when the museum opened have all graduated from high school,” Sharron Hunt said. “So we have a fresh crop of kids learning about the possibilities from these athletes. Girls can see themselves. Boys can see themselves. Someone in a wheelchair can see themselves in this exhibit.

“My father would have loved it.”

Author: Gamer/ Source