The U.S. Marine Band -- called by Thomas Jefferson "the President's Own" -- claims that it is America's "oldest, continuously active musical organization." Fitting, then, that it figures large in the Liberty Weekend celebrations beginning Friday.

The fireworks spectacular in New York City will be synchronized to four original compositions the Marine Band recorded last month at its home, the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I streets SE. The works were composed by Liberty Weekend music director Joe Raposo.

On the morning of the Fourth, the President's Own will perform for the president aboard the USS Iowa in the harbor during a naval review. The next morning the band will join the New York Philharmonic, James Galway, Marilyn Horne, Placido Domingo, Sherrill Milnes and Pinchas Zukerman at a classical concert in Central Park.

Unlike the other Liberty Weekend participants, the Marine Band is making a return trip. It went to New York City 100 years ago for the dedication of Lady Liberty. At that time, the band was directed by John Philip Sousa. Staff Sgt. Anne Skelly, a Marines spokeswoman, points out that the event was memorialized in an Edward Moran painting, "The Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World," which now hangs in the Museum of the City of New York. In the lower right-hand corner of the painting are 30 red-coated musicians playing aboard a ship. Those musicians, says Skelly, are members of the Marine Band.

Members of the Marine Band also perform in three smaller units: the Marine Dance Band, the Marine Dixieland Band and the Marine Orchestra. The orchestra performs at Wolf Trap Friday night.

In other Liberty news: The results of a national student graphics competition -- an exhibit of 30 posters, design symbols and three-dimensional pieces celebrating Lady Liberty's 100th -- go on display tomorrow at the American Institute of Architects' building at 1735 New York Ave. NW.

Aiding Local Arts Agencies

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Frank Hodsoll spoke Friday at the Mayflower Hotel before the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, which met in Washington for the first time last week. Noting the success of NEA's Locals Test Program, Hodsoll announced that it will become a permanently funded entity of the endowment. Begun in 1984, the program makes grants to local arts agencies -- like D.C.'s own Commission on the Arts and Humanities -- which must then match the money with local tax dollars. The funds are used for everything from hiring a permanent conductor, as the Durham, N.C., Symphony Orchestra did, to establishing a recording studio, as a nonprofit group in Atlanta did. There is a move to allow local agencies to match NEA funds not only with local tax money, but also with private sector money. The program has especially helped smaller arts organizations that normally cannot qualify for federal grants, says NEA spokeswoman Katherine Christie. Delegates to the meeting lobbied congressmen on Capitol Hill Thursday.

Odds and Ends

Phillips Collection Curator Willem de Looper will give a free talk at 12:30 p.m. Thursday at the Phillips on "Contemporary Painting: The Changing Surface" . . . A new monthly publication, Washington Art Report, features gallery reviews and other articles on the visual arts . . . The NEA announced $9 million in grants to orchestras around the country last week. Among those receiving funds locally: the National Symphony Orchestra, $244,000; and the American Symphony Orchestra League, $231,800.

The Soviets' Art Hit

The show of impressionist paintings from the Soviet Union that drew large crowds to the National Gallery of Art is drawing similar-sized crowds to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art -- and these art lovers are paying. More than half the $2 to $4 tickets for the seven-week run have already been sold.

New Music Commissions For the 1988 New York International Festival of the Arts, announced with enormous hoopla earlier this year, Chase Manhattan Bank is funding $150,000 worth of original musical commissions by seven American composers. Stephen Albert, Jacob Druckman, Ned Rorem, Christopher Rouse and Joseph Schwantner will compose orchestral works, and Gunther Schuller and William Schuman will compose chamber music.