WASHINGTON ARTIST have something special to be thankful for this year.

In a move that proves business support of the arts can be a cooperative venture, not just a handout, the Hyatt Regency Corp. has spent $70,000 on art -- all by area artists -- for the public spaces and VIP suites of its new Crystal City hotel.

And Hyatt has something to be thankful for, too. With the energetic help of the Community Arts Council of Arlington and one of the brightest curators in town, it has gotten what may be the best corporate collection of emerging art from the Washington region. "I knew it was high-quality work," says juror Howard Fox, a Hirshhorn curator, "but when I saw it hanging all together it blew my hair back."

The 73 works by 25 artists are of extraordinarily high quality. They were selected in an open competition organized by the Arlington Arts Center, the energetic artist-run space where the Hyatt purchases are now on view.

"It was a grueling job," says Bob Cwiok, director of the center, "but it benefits everyone: the artists, the art organization, the community at large -- and Hyatt."

Fox sifted through 5,000 slides submitted by 350 artists after the call went out in September. After narrowing the field to 55, artists were asked to bring in original work from which the final selections were made jointly by Fox and John Duffy, the hotel's project designer.

"The criteria were not entirely pure," says Fox, who pragmatically accepted the fact that the works had to fit into existing spaces. There is also a clear preference for abstract art, for which Duffy takes responsibility. "Abstract art seems to me to be more appropriate to that contemporary building."

Duffy's firm, Hirsch/Bedner, oversaw the first Hyatt competition in Louisville, Ky., last year. "That project was such a success that we decided to do it again in Baltimore and Crystal City," says Duffy.

The Baltimore competition, organized by the Maryland State Arts Council and also juried by Fox, resulted in the purchase of 59 works and three commissions at a total cost of about $50,000.

The Crystal City picks include examples by some better-known names: striped lithographs by Gene Davis, boxed, crushed paperworks by Sam Gilliam and a large pattern painting by Jerry Clapsaddle. But more impressive for their unfamiliarity and freshness are the works of the emerging artists: Richard Ward, one of the stars of this show, with two fine abstract drawings on blueprint paper; Walter Kravitz with watercolors using his usual amoebic forms, but unusually well put together; Patrice Kehoe, represented by a strong abstract painting; Yuriko Yamaguchi, by some intriguing, transparent mixed media work; and Liz Kregloe with some provocative pieces made from richly colored handmade paper. Judy McLeod has made a marvelous wall-hanging from silk, covered with patchwork-like patterns made with a rubber stamp. Katherine Allen, who makes intricate paper collages, has been commissioned to execute two such works on a large scale. Hilda Thorpe was also commissioned to do two major sculptures from handmade paper and Claudia DeMonte will do a wall of her amusing "dolls" for one of the restaurant areas.

"We got a great pot to pick out of in Washington," says Duffy. "With all due respect, there were just more professional artists and galleries here than in the other cities." Before the Louisville project, Duffy used to choose art from consultants and dealers who came into his office in California. "But now Hyatt would like us to pursue this technique."

Lowell Goodman, vice president in charge of purchasing at Hyatt, confirms this. "We pay overhead, but what we don't pay for is the time contributed by the arts groups. As a result it's much cheaper than if we had to go through agents and dealers. We plan to do this wherever possible."

As for using original art in the hotel's 700 rooms, chances seem dim: The art budget per room is only about $55.

Because of this success, the Arlington Arts Center plans to ask other corporations that are building or have built offices or hotels in Northern Virginia to join in similar ventures. The possibilities are endless.

The show is on view at the Arlington Arts Center (in the former Maury School at 3550 Wilson Blvd.) through Saturday, and will be open Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. After that the works can be seen at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City, scheduled to open in January.