Corporate contributions to the arts should benefits not only ballet and museums, but business as well, SCM's president told the Washington Art group yesterday. In effect, said Paul H. Elicker, patronage should be extended in direct proportion to its ability to enhance the company's image.

Today's corporations are no latter day Medicis, he continued, but arts sponsorships does lead to recognition. "And we are very interested in getting media coverage to extend that recognition," he said. In Elicker's opinion, corporations have the right to expect a quid pro quo for their sponsorship in the form of increased visibility, even though some people still consider it "crass" to ask for public credit for making charitable donations to the arts.

SCM Corp., a New York conglomerate that produces paints, foods and business machines, recently gave the Corcoran Gallery $25,000 to help mount its exhibition of Sam Wagstaff's photography collection. It paid for a recent gala opening. And it contributed another $5,000 for the Norman Zammitt painting show there.

Elicker summoned the financial press - as well as the art world - yesterday to talk about SCM's program. The corporation donates about 1 percent of its earnings annually - now about $150,000 - to culture. Of that sum, a quarter goes to the arts. (SCM had sales of about $1.3 billion in 1977.)

According to the March issue of MBA magazine, business patronage of the arts increased from $22 million in 1967 to $221 million in 1976. And while foundation grants slumped during the recent recession, business contributions did not.

A recent survey by the Business Committee for the Arts, a non-profit New York group that brings artists and donors together, showed that 23 percent of the companies plan to increase their subsidies, while only 4 percent project lower contributions.

Still business contributions represent only a small fraction of the $2 billion plus in gifts the arts and humanities received in 1976. Elicker noted that half of the corporate money was donated by the 750 largest firms in the country. He suggested there is a vast untapped source of funds that arts groups could utilize if they only would make the public relations value of contributions known to smaller businesses.

To assist in matching the parties, a number of non-profit organizations and consultants have come into being. In addition to the Business Committee for the Arts, there are also The Arts and Business Council and Affiliate Artists Inc., both in New York. Washington Corporative Arts Inc. offers help here.

Most corporations still go for conservative culture. Museums received the largest amount of the business budget: 22 percent. The greatest number of individual grants went to symphonies. Black arts groups, on the other hand, got fewer than two dozen of the 2,500 corporate arts grants listed by the committee in 1976 and 1977.

The most significant shift has been in public television and radio. Between 1973 and 1976, airwave patronage rose from 11 to 19 percent of total business donations. Sponsorship of drama and concerts by petroleum companies is perhaps the most visible symbol of the "marriage" between business and the arts.

Advantages to business include the 5 percent tax write-off businesses can claim for charitable contributions and the image-building or advertising value, as Elicker points out. Nevertheless, the suspicious remains, MBA magazine noted, that "business has found in the arts a lollipop to hand the public whose pocket it is picking."

It quotes J. Irwin Miller, chairman of the Cummins Engine Corp. and recipient of the Business Committee's 1977 awards. In accepting, Miller said, "A store which gives contemptuous service at the counter, a manufacturer who makes shoddy products, a multinational which bribes heads of states, if it counters by advertising its superb collection of avant-grade paintings, invites public comment printable not even in Playboy."