Shoes for all of the dance students at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts cost $600 - and completely new sets are needed three times a year.

Once a can of paint is opened in an art class at the school, it has to be used. It can't be put away for future use.

The school doesn't own enough musical instruments for its students.

Formerly Western High School, the Ellington School is housed in a 77-year-old building that is badly in need of modernization.

But recent District of Clumbia School budget cuts have forced faculty and administrators at the Ellington School to lower their expectations for immediate solutions.

Nevertheless, they responded Tuesday night with a fund-raiser - a benefit reception at Foxtrappe Ltd., the predominantly black private club at 1601 R St. NW.

"The reception was born out of the need to drum up dollars," said Israel Hicks, the 34-year-old school director who's in his first year at the institution.

"It's very expensive to run an arts school. When it really comes down to it, I can spend $4,000 in one department in one month. Paint can't be opened and reused. Dancers need new shoes periodically."

About 300 persons showed up for the reception. They paid $10 each, were given free champagne and treated to performances by the school's jazz ensemble and dance group.

Charles Tate, vice president of the Booker T. Washington Foundation, said part of his interest in the school stemmed from having a 17-year-old son there as a senior student.

"I think the idea of the school is a very good concept," he explained. "There's a need for the black comunity to institutionalize and mold schools like this. Some of our greatest artists have had their beginnings in the public school system."

The 500-student enrollment at Ellington is about 96 per cent black, said Hicks. "But more suburban kids are applying," he added quickly, "as they discover that the school is academically sound."

The Ellington School, he said, was not unlike other arts high schools in the country for having financial problems. Some have even sought - and received - foundation support, he explained.

Hicks, who directed the Negro Ensemble Company's production of "The Brownsville Raid" in 1976, said he plans another benefit reception in the spring - and the school will also put on benefit performances by nationally known artists.

"I'd like to be able to come away developing an operating budget for the school based upon a large arts event. We want to get dollars and turn them into more dollars."