The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities held a special four-hour meeting last Sunday night to enlarge the panels that make recommendations on grant applications in the arts.

The 10 commissioners and three proxies (out of a total of 18 commissioners) present at the meeting voted to increase the membership of each of the panels from three to seven.

"there was a tremendous fear among the former panelists that there would not be broad enough representation of artists with only three people on each of the panels," said Commissioner Ted Gay.

The decision to use three-member panels was made after the commission obtained a new executive director -- Mildred Bautista -- and a new chairman -- Peggy Copper -- later this spring.

Previously each of the panels had nine members, but those groups were disbanded when changes in commission leadership were made in the wake of extensive controversy over its funding and possible conflicts of interest.

Gay said he hopes that by tomorrow the commissioners can come up with nominations for four more slots on each panel. Gay said some of the previous panelists probably will be tapped.

Currently there are panels to review grants in eight areas of the arts -- music, theater, dance, literature visual arts, media, crafts and "multi-disciplinary.

After grant applicatons are reviewed, the 18-member full commission will make the final decision on the applications for federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts -- which is expected to come through some time early this fall.

The commission's applicaton for $295,000 in federal funds was judged unacceptable last March in an unprecedented move by the Endownment.

Strict criteria for avoiding conflict interest were set for the three members of each panel who have already been picked. One member must live outside the District but in the metropolitan area. One must be a federal government warker (and thereby ineligible for a grant). And one must have expertise in one art, but not in the panel's specific field.

The Sunday meeting was described as "emotional" yet "productive." "artists sometimes feel they are going to be eliminated from the process of funding because of the bureaucracy," said Gay, the owner of Capitol Hill Art and Frame. "It's important to keep the artists involved. That was voiced a lot Sunday night."

The panels may be totally revamped again when the commission holds public hearings in the fall on the commission in general and the review process in particular.