The D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities yesterday announced that grants totaling $420,000 would be awarded this fiscal year to 49 individuals and 56 organizations.

"It's a long way from where we've been," Commission Executive Director Mildred Bautista told a group of more than 150 gathered yesterday evening for wine and cheese and announcements at the renovated Lansburgh building. The structure now houses 26 arts groups, and early next month the commission will move its offices there.

The grants were dispensed in 10 categories. Many were relatively small awards -- $1,000 or $2,500 -- which local artists nonetheless gobble up thankfully in their struggles simply to keep their work or group in existence.

"It helps," said Wendy Woodson,who runs her own dance company (Wendy Woodson and Present Company) and who received $1,000. "It will help cover expenses for our show this weekend. We use a studio, so we have a rental fee to pay. We never make any money. We're usually in the hole. People in the company chip in."

And this year, for the first time, the commission also gave out "Institution Building" grants that ranged from $5,000 to $10,000. The idea, said Commission Chairman Peggy Cooper Cafritz, "is to give programs enough money to do something with. I'm sorry that amount is so small. I hope in years to come it will be more."

Helen Bynum, who runs a film company called Skye Pictures , received a $15,000 grant. "That eases our operating costs," said Bynum,who estimates those costs at $200,000 a year.

"I can tell you one thing," said Melvin Deal, director and founder of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers. "This is the first time I've received $15,000 as a grant from anyone, including the National Endowment for the Arts which has given him $10,000 grants. When I saw this $15,000, I could finally say after 21 years that someone has come up with more than $10,000 to recognize the work I do. It offers a glimpse of hope. Twenty-one years is a long time to work to get $15,000. Hopefully other artists in the community won't have to wait so long."

But they did wait an hour last night for the promised arrival of Mayor Marion Barry. "I've always advocated a community is only as strong as its culture," he told the group. "I've also said that New York City has had the title of culture capital for too long, and we're going to take it away from them."

Barry said that he had requested in his fiscal 1983 budget a $580,000 funding increase for the commission above the $787,000 the agency received for the current fiscal year. There's a public hearing regarding that budget on Jan. 21 at 10:30 a.m., before the D.C. City Council.

"If I had my way, the commission would have far more money," Barry said. "Washington, D.C., is the greatest city in the world and has the greatest culture in the world."

That provoked one guest to whisper: "There's a bus leaving for New York after this."

Other recipients of the larger Institution Building grants include the Dance Exchange ($14,500), Sign of the Times Cultural Workshop and Gallery ($15,000), Washington Review of the Arts (a publication -- $10,000), Washington Project for the Arts ($15,000), Cafam III (an organization that includes Miya Gallery -- $15,000), GALA Hispanic Theatre ($5,000), Lorton Arts Program ($15,000), and the Howard University Jazz Studies Program ($5,000).

Besides the 105 grants totaling $420,000, commission funds go to a Special Constituency Program, designed mainly to bring arts to handicapped and incarcerated people ($60,000), a Summer Youth program ($60,000) and an Artist-in-Education program ($58,470), among other programs