The National Endowment for the Arts ended its symposium on relations among local, state and federal arts agencies yesterday with most participants agreeing it had been helpful but with at least one of the official observers saying it had been a waste of time.

"It was a chance to get a variety of input, to listen to people from the field in a non-grant-related way," said NEA chairman Frank Hodsoll at a press briefing at the Kennedy Center after the two-day seminar, the third in a series that began in February. "We're looking at what the needs of the field are, or, in this case, how the mechanism works. We're getting a cross-section of what the needs are."

The symposium was closed to press coverage. But one participant, Lucien Wulsin, chairman of the Colorado Council on the Arts and Humanities, said, "We talked about what state and local agencies can best do to stimulate additional giving . . . and raise public consciousness." Other topics included strengths and limitations of state and local arts agencies, their priorities, how the federal government should allocate money to states and localities, and what kinds of endeavors should be funded with public money as opposed to private money.

Participants included directors of state arts councils from across the country (which fund arts groups within their states) and several members of the National Council on the Arts, the presidentially appointed body that advises the NEA. Participation was by invitation only and the press was excluded to "create a collegial atmosphere," explained Hodsoll, "where people aren't talking--if you will--for posterity . . . We invite observers. There's nothing secret about these meetings." The reason they are not open, said Hodsoll, "is to keep it small, collegial."

The first seminar, on design arts (held in Charlottesville), cost about $20,000 and the second, on music (in Philadelphia), cost about $15,000. Another is scheduled for late April on the theater, and Hodsoll estimates it, too, will cost about $15,000.

"It wasn't worth $15,000," said one non-participating observer, Arlene Goldbard, a codirector of the Neighborhood Arts Program National Organizing Committee. "It was hardly worth anything. I sincerely think the public arts organizations that sat in on this did not hear anything they haven't heard in the last several years . . . This seminar had no one from organizations that we represent."

But Mildred Bautista, executive director of the D.C. Commission on the Arts, was pleased with the seminar. "There were no solutions," she said, "but we touched on a whole bunch of things. There was hardly any agreement. For instance, some people said the Endowment's individual artists' grants are very good and others said the Endowment doesn't do a good job of identifying who those individual artists should be . . . I can't tell you how little information is shared in this fashion. We're all running around with our little crises."