About 40 aspiring journalists and their parent and teacher patrons yesterday celebrated the publication of a magazine that almost wasn't.

Just hours off the press, it was the eighth annual issue of Cityscape, dated October 1981, a student urban-affairs journal as old as the institution at which it was founded--the Duke Ellington School of the Arts--and with a good deal of its own financial problems.

Gathered at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art, most Cityscape staffers were relieved just to see their work in print; others lauded the fortuitous "Smithsonian connection," without which there would have been no magazine.

It was last October, "just when we were ready to go to press, that we ran out of funds," said Margaret Paris, visual arts instructor at Ellington and coordinator of the magazine.

But an eleventh-hour agreement with the Smithsonian's Young Writers' Project saved the day. The staff agreed to insert a special Writers' Project section in the magazine while the Smithsonian, through its Educational Outreach Fund, picked up the rest of the $5,000 printing tab.

At 116 pages and containing 82 compositions based on urban-related topics, "it's not something the students take lightly," said Teresa Grana, associate curator at the NMAA and coordinator of the Writers' Project. "It's really a book. We're talking serious journalism here."

Actually we're talking grassroots interviews with community folk and striking architectural photography which the creators of Cityscape dub "Urban Journalism." But, as it now stands, there may not be a ninth edition of Cityscape.

"We don't have a budget for next year," said Maurice Eldridge, principal at Ellington. The magazine receives about $9,000 of the school's privately raised $350,000. "There's always been a funding question at Ellington. In all the decisions the school board has to make, the board didn't see this as a priority," said Eldridge.

The funding plight of the literary arts was confirmed by the reception's main speaker, E. Ethelbert Miller, a local poet, who warned the student writers about the financially unstable profession.

"Few parents send their kids off to college to become poets," he said, citing the average writer's income as $5,000 annually. Miller then borrowed a satirical quote from writer Chester Hines and joked, " 'Boys who aren't properly disciplined by their fathers become either writers or criminals.' "