I ONCE SPENT a crazy night visiting dissident artists in LenI ingrad. What sticks in my mind most vividly about it is not the Keystone Kops chase on which I led my KGB "tail" (because I was lost!), but rather the great sadness I felt when I finally found the rendezvous and saw the basically uninteresting pictures the artists had assembled for my benefit. These artists suffered persecution in order to continue their efforts, but because they were so isolated from other artists, from informed audiences and from esthetic (as opposed to political) criticism, they were severely hampered in their ability to do good work. And they realized it, too. They were desperate for more exposure to what was going on elsewhere.

Another vivid memory is of the Brazilian students who rioted against the U.S. during the day, and at night fought (actually broke down a theater door) to get into a concert by the New York Pro Musica.

These recollections serve to illustrate the raison d'etre of the newly created, non-profit Arts International. International exchanges in the arts are necessary to the development of artists and art forms, and they constitute an important avenue to mutual understanding between the people of different nations. It is just that little bit harder to get people fighting each other when they have shared an emotionally satisfying artistic experience.

The cultural life of the United States is not run by any central government authority, but rather grows from the highly diverse activities of many private individuals and institutions. This presents a formidable barrier to the organization of international exchanges, since no one knows who is doing what, or where to go to get a project started.

Arts International was recently created by a private group including leaders from the arts, business and foundations. It will fill the information gap by collecting all kinds of data on artistic exchanges, rules and regulations, sources of funding and answers to the thousands of detailed questions that can arise in this field. Do you need a temporary membership in the Brazilian musicians union to give a concert in Rio? Is an international agreement required to bring the Tutankhamen exhibition to the U.S.? Which American corporations are active in Senegal, and might they be interested in helping to sponsor an appearance by an American dance company?

By matching up these nuggets of information, we plan to remove obstacles from the path of those interested in setting up international exchanges in the arts, and to do a kind of "computer dating" between the arts and potential sponsors. At the same time, by making known the solid business advantages of sponsorship, we hope to expand the presently limited universe of corporations that are willing to sponsor international arts events.

Thus, when we learn that the Bigbucks Corporation is opening a new branch in Ruritania next summer, we can not only suggest that it make a big splash by sponsoring a major arts event to coincide with its opening, we can also go to our computer and tell it which American orchestras, ballet companies or exhibitions would be available or possibly already scheduled to be in that part of the world at the time.

Next, we will go to Miserly International, which has never sponsored anything, and point out that the Bigbucks Company was very happy with its opening, that the president of Ruritania attended the reception, and that the Bigbucks people feel they bought a public relations bargain.

By the same token, we will be seeking opportunities for foreign artistic attractions in the U.S. Many potential sponsors from other countries are thrown for a loop by the complexity and lack of central direction of the U.S. cultural world. We mean to lead them by the hand through the maze of private organizations, stressing the number, quality and diversity of artistic centers in this country.

In this way, by making information more generally available, by acting as go-between, and through advocacy, we expect to make a significant impact on the amount and range of international exchange in the arts, and thereby to contribute to the development of the arts and international understanding.