The D.C. Commission on the Arts yesterday announced major changes in its policies for the coming fiscal year, including the decision to award larger grants of money to fewer recipients.

"Usually we've tried to give many, many people tiny amounts of money," said Commission chair Peggy Cooper at a press conference yesterday. "We're going to have a new focus now. The bulk of the grants-in-aid will go to institution-building grants in the sums of $5,000, $10,000, $15,000. Compare that to the average grant this fiscal year of $2,200."

"We've had a lot of calls saying, 'This grant is so small -- how can $200 help me,'" said Commission executive director Mildred Bautista.

The Commission also announced the 149 fiscal-1981 grant recipients and the creation of two new programs: one to aid the handicapped and the institutionalized; and another for youth programs in the summer.

Commission oficials avoided sounding any note of despair over the proposed sharp cutbacks in federal arts funding. Hardest hit by the federal cuts will be the Arts D.C. program, which places CETA workers in arts organizations across the country. If funding for the CETA program is cut, "Arts D.C. won't have anything to administer," said Cooper of the program, which is sponsored jointly by the Arts Commission and the United Labor Agency. "I think it's dumb to cut things that work. Arts D.C. is the most successful CETAprogram in the country in terms of placement rate."

The Commission's budget is only indirectly affected by federal cuts. The approximately 35 percent of its funding that comes from the National Endowment for the Arts -- which is threatened by 50 percent cuts -- could change. But the Commission remains optimistic about the remainder from the District government budget (which also must be federally approved).

Mayor Marion Barry said at yesterday's conference that the $333,550 awarded in grants this year "is not enough, but that's all we had. My fiscal-year-1982 budget has additional monies for the arts. We're going to fight for it. And my fiscal-1983 budget will have more money for the arts." But Barry said later that the city is "in for four tough years. We're not the constituency that put the president in. Not me, not the mayors of the top cities in the country."

The Commission hopes to receive $800,000 from the city in fiscal 1982 (this year's sum was $541,000) to award at total of 50 or 60 grants, of which 10 to 30 will go to institutions in 10 artistic categories. Applicants will have to submit five-year plans for the first time: "The three-page applications won't do anymore," said Bautista. And individual grants -- at a uniform rate of $2,500 -- will not be based on the nature of a project. "People used to simply think up projects that they thought were appealing to the Commission," said Cooper. A third policy change stresses grants awarded on a geographical basis to arts groups in Wards 5, 7 and 8 (Shaw and out Rhode Island Avenue, far Northeast and Anacostia, respectively.) "We want to identify what arts activites are out there," Bautista said. "Maybe we'll pick them. Maybe we'll have them compete for grants."

Among the recipients of this year's 149 Commission grants were New Playwrights Theatre, glass artist Sal Fiorito, choreographer Keith Lee, the Dance Exchange, the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers, the Washington Project for the Arts, and playwright Ernest Joselivitz.