The Birnam Arts & Conference Centre, also known as Birnam Arts (and previously as the Birnam Institute), stands in the centre of the attractive village of Birnam, today squeezed fairly tightly between the A9 trunk road which bypasses it to the south-west, and the River Tay.
Birnam Arts offers a variety of community facilities in a building that combines a traditional stone core with a large and impressive modern extension built between February 2000 and June 2001 at a cost of some £2m.
The result is a building used for a wide range of meetings, arts performances, films, workshops, conferences and exhibitions. The foyer is home to a friendly and attractive cafe which lays claim to the "best coffee and cakes for miles around". Also housed within the centre is a branch library and the offices of Community Learning, and a large and well stocked gift shop. Part of the building is given over to a Beatrix Potter Exhibition, a theme continued in the Beatrix Potter Garden to the rear of the centre. (Continues below image...)
Arts centres, by whatever name they are known, sometimes fit into the communities they are intended to serve, and sometimes seem to stand apart from them. What is really nice about Birnam Arts, perhaps in part because of the broad range of uses to which it is put, is its welcoming and inclusive feel, and the sense that it really does stand at the heart of the local community of Birnam and beyond.
And perhaps Birnam Arts is also so central to the community because, in an earlier guise, it has been here for so long. In 1880 the local stationmaster, John Kinnaird, launched an appeal to raise funds for a community centre for "education and entertainment". Amongst those who subscribed were Beatrix Potter's parents. The Birnam Institute was formally opened on 29 September 1883 at a cost of £1,662.
The institute was designed by the Perth-based architect Charles S. Robertson and comprised a library and reading room, hall, refreshment and games room, and caretaker's accommodation. Annual membership was 5/- (five shillings or £0.25) for men and 3/6 (three shillings and sixpence or £0.175) for women.
In 1890 public baths were added to the Institute, with members being charged 6d (2.5 pence) for a hot bath and 3d (1.75 pence) for a cold bath, and non-members and visitors twice those amounts. Films were first shown at the Birnam Institute in the 1920s, and during World War II the centre was used by a travelling theatre company whose role was to entertain both troops and locals.
By the 1990s it was clear that if the Institute was to see in the next century in a sound state, major investment was needed, and the result was the new extension which opened in June 2001. It is very fitting that the main auditorium was named the "John Kinnaird Hall" in tribute to the man who came up with the idea in the first place, 120 years earlier.