Hilbert: Chapman’s Art Museum Nobody Knows?

Large scale drawings by artist Bradford J. Salamon on display at the Hilbert Museum. Photo by Whiting.

Animation exhibits, Disney paintings, watercolors and more. 

Chapman’s Hilbert Museum is undergoing a massive expansion that will triple its size and take over the Partridge Dance Center, but…

“I literally have no idea what that is,” said sophomore Kasey Pierpont. 

The museum currently sits at 7,500 square feet. Photo by Whiting.

“The what?” asked junior Leeyette Lolich.

Most students aren’t even aware that the Hilbert Museum exists on the west side of campus.

The Hilbert Museum is Chapman University’s very own art gallery, neighboring the Partridge Dance Center. And it’s free. The museum will soon expand to about 22,000 square feet when it takes over the dance studios in Partridge in 2023. There will be a cafe, a courtyard with a giant oak tree, a movie art gallery, and even rooms for animation and art classes, according to Mary Platt, the museum’s director. 

However, despite opening in 2016, word of the museum has not spread to many students. It’s not even shown on the campus map, which lists the museum as, “University Warehouse,” at number 31. 

Mary Platt, director of the Hilbert Museum. Photo courtesy of the Chapman Newsroom.

“The campus tours also don’t include us, and with a limited advertising budget, it’s hard,” Platt said.

The museum’s most reliable visitors, other than the public, are animation students, according to Platt. But even some animation students haven’t visited. 

Dani Sharkey, a sophomore animation major, has never gone to the exhibit before, but has heard of it.

“Since it’s so close to The K, I guess I’ve always taken its availability for granted,” Sharkey said.

Meanwhile, Kasey Pierpont, a sophomore communication major, had never even heard of the museum before.

“Maybe if they held a student event there it would be more accessible, but I just don’t even know where it is,” Pierpont said. 

Platt has similar concerns.

“We need to be included on campus tours, maybe the Dodge tour,” Platt said. “We are still part of the campus, just on the opposite side.”

Kasey Pierpont, sophomore communication major.
Photo courtesy of Kasey Pierpont.

Now, how did Chapman even get an official art museum in the first place?

The core of the art collection was donated by philanthropists and Chapman trustees Mark and Janet Hilbert, who have been collecting fine art for over 25 years. After touring the university with his grandson, Mark Hilbert gave Chapman $7 million worth of their art collection and $3 million in cash for the construction of the exhibit. 

“Every great university needs an art museum,” Hilbert said, according to Platt.

Mark and Janet Hilbert, Chapman trustees and philanthropists. Photo courtesy of the Hilbert Museum website.

Mark Hilbert himself wishes more students were aware of the museum and its convenience.

“It’s frustrating when we ask students if they know about the large FREE art museum on their own campus and many still do not. The tours should be modified and updated to include all areas of the Chapman campus,” Hilbert wrote in an email interview.

Each year, the Hilberts give about $1 million worth of art for the museum to put on display. They recently donated another $12 million for the current expansion, according to Platt.

The last chance to see the Hilbert Museum in its original building is May 2022. It will be moving to a much smaller, but temporary space in a former bank in downtown Orange as it prepares for its improvements.

The new and expanded Hilbert Museum will open its doors to students and the public in summer 2023. 

With an upgrade as big as this one, Platt is trying to find new marketing methods to bring more students in.

“How do students find out what’s going on? Maybe I could reach out to the RAs at The K? Maybe I could print some signs?” Platt said. “I would just love to see more students visiting and I know we can do it.”

Despite many students not being aware of the Hilbert Museum, it saw over 30,000 public visitors in 2019, according to Platt. Photo by Whiting.
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Zetta Whiting is a sophomore English major with an emphasis in journalism and a dance minor. In her free time, she enjoys reading fiction, watching action movies, and eating seafood.