The Birnam Arts & Conference Centre has its origins in the scheme initiated by John Kinnaird, the local stationmaster, in1880 to create a community facility for ‘education and entertainment’. Prior to this a working mans club, inaugurated by Lord John Manners in 1876, met in cramped premises in Birnam Terrace.
John Kinnaird enlisted the help of the many visitors who arrived at Birnam station en route to their villas and shooting lodges. Through these contacts he and his committee raised £500 towards the cost of the Building. The land, on the north side of Station Road, and the stone were gifted by the laird, Sir Douglas Stewart of Murthly. The remainder of the money required was raised from a ‘Grand Bazaar of Fancy and Other Work’ that ran for three days to coincide with the Birnam Games in August and produced the magnificent sum of £880.19s. 8d.
Plans were drawn up by C.S. Robertson of Perth for a library and reading room, hall, refreshment and games room, and also provided a caretakers accommodation. These facilities could be enjoyed for the annual membership fee of 5/- for men and 3/6 for women. The Institute was formally opened on 29th September 1883 at the total cost of £1,662.
A few years later the Birnam Institute Committee embarked on another ambitious scheme – the building of public baths. When they were completed in 1890 the correspondent of the Dundee courier reported ‘In a place like Birnam, where so many visitors congregate in the summer and where many of the lodging houses are old fashioned in style and unprovided with modern sanitary conveniences, these baths are of the greatest value’. The charges for members were 6d for a hot bath and 3d for a cold bath, while visitors paid 1/- for a hot bath and 6d for a cold.
By the end of the nineteenth century membership was falling and during the First World War troops were billeted in the Institute further curtailing activities. However during the 1920’s renovations took place and ‘movies’ started to be shown. On the outbreak of the Second War the military again took over and a travelling theatre company entertained troops and locals alike.
Post war the Institute had a number of ups and downs in its fortunes, with a constant struggle to find funds to support the building, though it continued to be used by a wide variety of community groups. By the 1990’s it no longer met the necessary regulations and it was again decided to embark on a major building project.
There followed a series of public consultations, feasibility studies, proposals, plans, all of which eventually produced a refurbishment and extension project to give new life to the Birnam Institute.
Funding of nearly £2,000,000 for the proposed building works took some three years to assemble and was achieved with grants from the Scottish Arts Lottery, the European Regional Development Fund, the Millennium’s 21st Century Halls for Scotland, The Gannochy Trust, Perth and Kinross Council, Scottish Enterprise Tayside, The Carnegie Trust, the Dunkeld Village Hall Fund and many members of the community.
Macmon chartered architects worked in partnership with The Birnam Institute and the local community to provide a sensitive design respectful of the conservation area the building lies in whilst, at the same time, offering a contemporary quality and vigour for the coming century. Work started in February 2000 and was completed in June 2001. The building then went on to achieve a Dynamic Place Award in 2001 and a Civic Trust Award in 2003.
In September 2011 The Birnam Institute changed its constitution and to do this a change of name to Birnam Arts was required to meet legal requirements, although to many locals we will always be "The Institute".
This ambitious and attractive community facility could not survive without the very generous support from its community volunteers, from Perth and Kinross Council, the Scottish Arts Council and the growing number of people who come to the Birnam Arts & Conference Centre to eat, shop or participate in the many activities now going on.