"You look like a proud father," someone quipped to Peter Jablow, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, as he stood greeting people who filed slowly into Ford's Theater for a reception yesterday afternoon.

In the local arts world -- the very, very local arts world -- of Adams Morgan and Fairfax County, where money comes in little dribbles and where (so the story goes) urban artists fight suburban artists for money and attention, Peter Jablow is indeed a proud father. He has solidified a clan (the Cultural Alliance) of some 189 diverse art groups, and he has gathered at least 150 people -- Alliance members plus supporters -- for an annual meeting.

As a result, John Kudless, director of development for the National Symphony Orchestra, and dressed for the board room, wandered by chatting with Samuel Laudenslager, tuba player for the City of Fairfax Band, dressed for the tuba players' Christmas carols concert on the Ellipse.

"Just having advocates in Washington is a big help," said Laudenslager about the Cultural Alliance, of which his band is a member. "There's even concern among the big boys -- National Symphony, Arena Stage. They feel perfectly fine assisting the Prince George's Philharmonic."

The what?

"Oh, yes," Laudenslager confirmed, nodding vigorously.

"It's effective," said Kudless, who was elected to the board of directors of the Alliance yesterday. "I participated in a fundraising workshop a few weeks ago. People stayed all day, they were interested, they were active with their questions."

The Cultural Alliance is an advocate and service organization for all arts groups of all sizes and types in the metropolitan area.

Among its services: a dental care program, health insurance, cooperative purchasing of supplies, a Cultural Alliance newsletter, a Cultural Alliance Directory and a clearinghouse calendar, which lists as many events of all art groups as the groups put down. The Alliance also plans workshops which instruct the groups in such subjects as fundraising. And they lobby news media for space and art event listings, probably the most appreciated service members mentioned yesterday.

Jablow told the group that they can "safely" expect to see "audiences continue to increase, but become more sensitive to external cost -- parking, restaurants, theaters . . . New groups will continue to appear. Three years ago the cultural network was half the size of what it is now."

Michael Straight, former deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts and the author of a book about the Endowment, "Twigs for an Eagle's Nest," said in his keynote speech yesterday afternoon, "Unless we have the will to survive as public agencies, we won't."

And at the end of all the speeches one member of the audience asked to be recognized, then stood up and soberly told the audience that his new theater, the Prism Theater Ensemble, had not been reviewed in the press and it had to be soon -- it was a matter of "do or die."

Although the Alliance represents a wide variety of groups, one observer noted the lack of smaller black urban arts groups. "Where are they? Many of these groups are suburban."

"It's one of our goals," said Delano Lewis, who just yesterday finished his term as president of the board of the Alliance. "We've got to do more outreach."