Museum -> Experience

Adirondack Museum rebrands, hoping to connect history with modern audience

David Kahn, executive director of what was then called the Adirondack Museum, gives a tour of a exhibit in 2013. (Enterprise photo — Shaun Kittle)

The Adirondacks’ biggest cultural history institution is changing its name to something it hopes is more relevant for today’s visitors.

The Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake has rebranded itself as “Adirondack Experience, the Museum on Blue Mountain Lake,” museum officials announced Tuesday.

The museum’s website and logo have been redesigned with the new name, and employees who answered the phone Tuesday afternoon were already using the Adirondack Experience name. Executive Director David Kahn said consumer research has found tourists are more likely to visit cultural attractions that provide a rich, interactive experience. The museum has offered that for years, but its old name didn’t really convey that image to the public, Kahn said.

“Some of the research we’ve done over the years with consumers who don’t know what the museum is, it’s been interesting to hear their impressions of what Adirondack Museum signifies,” he said. “They think it’s something that maybe is not for kids, something that may be small, something that sounds like a natural history museum. All sorts of misperceptions were generated by the old name, and we’re hoping to overcome those through the rebranding.”

The Adirondack Experience name will help the museum compete with new destinations in the Adirondack region and around the Northeast, “and reflects what we truly are: a 121-acre indoor-and-outdoor experience,” Kahn said in the press release.

A family with children relaxes beside a pond at what was then called the Adirondack Museum — now Adirondack Experience, the Museum at Blue Mountain Lake. (Enterprise photo — Andy Bates)

“We provide a fun, active and educational way for visitors to immerse themselves into the reality of life, work and recreation in the Adirondacks,” he said.

The new name may sound familiar to museum visitors. Four years ago, the museum opened up a new core exhibit it called the “Adirondack Experience.”

“We thought it summed up what we were trying to do for the public in terms of getting the Adirondack story out in a new and creative way,” Kahn said. “As we thought about that name a lot more, it struck us that it’s really a name for the entire place, not just this one exhibit. That was part of the evolution, too.”

Over the last 20 years, many museums and historical societies across the country have changed their names to try and attract new visitors. The Ohio Historical Society is now Ohio History Connection. The Colorado Historical Society is now History Colorado.

“One of the first that did this in the early 1990s was when the Minnesota Historical Society built a new facility and called it the Minnesota History Center,” Kahn said. “Everybody at the time was saying, ‘They’re doing what?’ But it became one of the most renowned history museums in the country. Older established institutions have found it makes sense to make a switch to better communicate with contemporary audiences.”

A train once used on Marion Carry near Blue Mountain Lake is on display at the former Adirondack Museum, now called Adirondack Experience. (Enterprise photo — Andy Bates)

That was the case for organizers of the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks in Tupper Lake. It went by that name throughout its development in the late 1990s and early 2000s, but nine months before it opened, organizers announced a new name, the Wild Center. People were puzzled by it at first, recalled Wild Center Executive Director Stephanie Ratcliffe.

“Now, I think people have gotten used to it,” she said. “I think it’s worked really well for us. It’s a bigger umbrella than what some people might think of a natural history museum. We have live animals and interactive exhibits. The Wild Center name is active. It has the spirit of what we’re about.”

Ratcliffe said she supports the Blue Mountain Lake museum’s name change.

“I’m sure it will be hard for some people, and that’s understandable,” she said, “but from what I can tell, they did a lot of visitor research on this before they did it. That gives me some confidence, and it should give other people confidence. The whole point is why we exist is to expose as many people as possible to the educational offerings we have. If it helps spread the work and mission of the museum, I think it’s a good thing to do.”

Kahn said some of the museum’s longest-serving board members, to his surprise, were supportive of a name change when the idea first came up.

A gigantic wooden chair attracts visitors outside the former Adirondack Museum, now called Adirondack Experience. (Enterprise photo — Andy Bates)

“When we first started talking about this at a board meeting last July, the really old-timers on the board were the ones who said, ‘We’ve got to do this,'” he said. “I was thinking it would be the other way around, but one of the longest-serving trustees said marketing has been an issue for as long as he’d been with the museum. Some of the trustees felt the name was a bit of an issue. When the time came to vote on the board level on the change of name, the vote was unanimous in favor of doing it.”

The changeover took place Tuesday when the museum’s new website, www.theADKX.org, went live. It also debuted a new logo, dropping the old one that featured an Adirondack guideboat and replacing it with a design that combines the letters A, for Adirondack, and X, for Experience “in an abstract image that evokes the High Peaks and rustic Adirondack architecture,” according to the press release. Kahn said the new name and logo will be featured in print, online and social media marketing.

Initial reaction to the Adirondack Experience name wasn’t very positive among visitors to the Enterprise’s Facebook page Tuesday.

“I am not at all impressed!!!” posted Mike Prescott. “The new name implies a theme park. Very confusing!!! I am also not impressed with the new logo. Sometimes it is best to leave things alone.”

“Sounds like 6 Flags moved to Blue Mountain,” Joe Cormier posted.

The introduction of the new name coincides with the July 1 opening of a new 19,000-square-foot interactive exhibit called “Life in the Adirondacks” that museum officials say “combines digital technology with real hands-on experiences to bring the spirit of adventure and breathtaking natural beauty of the Adirondacks to life. It will occupy the former Roads and Rails building.

The museum is closed now but will reopen for its 60th season, and its first as the Adirondack Experience, on May 26.