AS ANOTHER season begins for the arts in Washington, with a dozen openings and a hundred fund-raising appeals, every arts group is in worse shape than ever, and Wolf Trap is in ruins.

The arts community must use this disaster as a catalyst, an opportunity to discover unrecognized resources. There's enough extra arts money in town to rebuild Wolf Trap every year. We have to stop wringing our hands and get down to business. Looking back, we'll see that when we pitched in for Wolf Trap we did everyone else a favor.

We're still in the hat-in-hand stage of arts fund-raising, still apologizing when we ask for help. Although arts donations are tax deductible as gifts to charities, by counting ourselves as charities we are placed in the worst light: the arts are competing with school lunch programs. We should view our fund-raising with a colder eye. We are major community resources, and support for the arts is a community investment.

When the 1981 "Places Rated Almanac" named D.C. the second-best place to live in the country, it cited our arts resources as second only to New York City's. We bring in the tourists; we attract conventions; we help lure corporations such as Time Inc. and Mobil to our area; we help define that quality of life so important to a reversal of D.C.'s population decline.

Let's first find an additional $5 million from 5,000 area businesses, at an average of $1,000 each -- from the mom and pop stores that can manage $500 (less than $10 a week) up to the largest corporations. We can do this not by passing the hat, but by offering quid pro quos.

We'll take outright financial contributions, but we must also encourage and accept services that can lighten an arts budget, such as costume cleaning and program printing. It may, for example, be easier to introduce some hard-line holdouts to the notion of arts support by selling them advertising space in our program magazines rather than asking for a handout. Whether the money goes for program ads or contributions, it's still deductible and it still helps.

To that $5 million let's then add another $2 million from the hundreds of national corporations, trade associations and lobbyists who have Washington offices. They can enhance their visibility at extremely cost-effective rates by investing in the local arts.

Now we're up to $7 million and we haven't even touched the public dollar. To get at that money, we have to use our political clout -- yes, clout. Our trustees and patrons and audiences include the best and the brightest, locally and from across the country. We must encourage them to work and to work hard for our share of the public dollar.

The major employers of any other city are counted on to contribute their share back into their community. Regardless of philosophic differences about the ultimate role of government in the arts, the federal establishment should be expected to be a good citizen. At the very minimum, we should be allowed to conduct employe solicitations, offer payroll-deduction plans, etc., like other fund-raisers. There should also be a separate National Endowment for the Arts allocation, and line items in departmental budgets for area cultural development.

To make the fullest use of our political resources, we need a Potomac region arts commission -- to raise funds, not just to serve as a conduit for arts appropriations. In this way, our voice would be heard in the statehouses of Virginia and Maryland as well as in the District.

Any captain of industry expects a profit from his manufacturing division, but not from research and development. The arts are society's R&D, and arts funding is development capital. There is no longer the daily need to explain why the arts need contributions.

But we do have to change our manner of asking. The world does not owe a living to any individual theater, dance company or orchestra. Inevitably, something Darwinian this way comes to influence which groups survive and which succumb. However, I am convinced those groups are favored whose management takes the same responsibility for their survival that any business person would shoulder. And the chances for all of us are enhanced when we stop the whining, gather our forces, and act in concert -- making our best case without apologies.