An ad hoc group of Congress is meeting weekly to ask "what's up next."

The Congressional Clearinghouse on the Future is sponsoring a year-long series of weekly "Chautauquas for Congress." At the second yesterday, the topic was "the Future and the Politics of Creation" as part of a month-long look at the arts.

The purpose of the Chautauquas -- the name borrowed form the turn-of-the-century movement for popularized education -- is to gather information for congressmen and committee staff members so they can consider the future while making current political decisions.

Yesterday the arts discussion drew a sprinkling of staffers as Tom Burch, of the House education subcommittee, moderated for five panelists.

There was a warning of "storm clouds" on the future horizon from Jack Golodner, a union attorney who specializes in arts clients. Federal money for the arts will not come at the accelerated rate that jumped budget outlays from $2.5 million a year to $125 million in little more than a decade, Golodner noted.

While Harry Sumrall, musician and critic, felt the National Endowment for the Arts does better in supporting institutions than indiviual artists, there were some kind words for the federal arts programs.

Jim Backas, director of the American Arts Alliance, defended the panel system of making grants as "wild and incredibly imaginative" and certainly more responsive to needs than any other system in an entrenched bureaucracy. Panels of artists, musicians and theater people make awards to their colleagues and are rotated frequently. If mistakes are made and the process is painful, Backas observed, at least it is flexible and doesn't codify.