Willa Taylor watched the Tony Awards earlier this month with a smile on her face. "It was nice watching the awards ... and seeing how many people had a connection with the Arena," she says.

Now, as the newly appointed coordinator of Arena Stage's Allen Lee Hughes Fellows Program, Taylor has an opportunity to add a few more Arena-related faces to future Tony shows. This weekend the Arena staff interviewed 27 applicants who were vying for at least 10 Fellow apprenticeship positions, offered to minorities in the fields of theater development, communications, information systems and several technical fields. The picks will be made at the end of this week.

"The job is intimidating in the sense that the program can make a significant impact on American theater," she says. "Because Arena is a well-regarded institution, we have the capability of training people so that after spending some time with us, they can work at any place in the country." Taylor believes that a few years down the line, the Hughes Fellows Program -- named for the Tony-nominated lighting designer currently serving as an associate artist at Arena -- should result in both a greater minority presence in American theatrical occupations and in a higher quality of theater as well. "It's going to be difficult," Taylor admits.

No doubt things will be easier to accomplish with a chunk of money from the National Endowment for the Arts. In December Arena was awarded a $1 million grant for its cultural-diversity program. Over the next four years Arena is required to match every $1 with $3 from private sources.

"I've had several mentors in my life," says Taylor. "That's what this program is all about: providing one person who can make a difference."

Arts Center Celebrates

On Friday at 9 p.m. the District of Columbia Arts Center celebrates its first anniversary with a party featuring two bands, the Rhomboids and Plum Crazy. Since its opening, the art/performance space has featured the works of more than 300 visual artists and shows by more than 300 musicians, poets and performance artists, according to DCAC Director Margaret Schnipper.

While Schnipper says one goal of the center is to interact with the local community as a whole, she is proud of DCAC's reputation as a supporter of the alternative arts. She says she goes out of her way not only to find alternative art but to encourage it. "I think it's important because in a city like Washington, since there haven't been many places exposing new approaches, artists think they need to go along with the status quo. We're trying to inspire them to put their art on the front lines."

DCAC has approximately 200 members and a "core of people" who show up for most of its events, but Schnipper is "amazed how diverse the crowd can be. There's new faces all the time." Money to run the place is tight, but Schnipper is confident the center can make it now that it's hit the one-year mark.

"It's hard, that's no secret. I'm being a five-person staff," she says. "We don't have the money for staff or advertising ... but you have to go through that. Any new organization does."

Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. there will be an afternoon of performances, readings, music and dance. The anniversary celebration weekend concludes at 2 p.m. Sunday with music by Super Jones Affair and Dead Eddie. Admission on Friday is $3 for DCAC members, $4 for nonmembers; events on Saturday are free, and admission is $3 on Sunday. DCAC is at 2438 18th St. NW.

D.C. Anthology

The D.C. Commission on the Arts has released its first anthology of Washington writers: "Our Voices." The collection of short stories includes works by Elizabeth Benedict, Maxine Combs, Marita Golden, H.D. Lewis, David Nicholson, Elisavietta Ritchie, Patricia Elam Ruff, Arturo Salcedo-Martinez and Mary Kay Zuraleff. It is free and can be obtained by calling 724-5613 or by writing the D.C. Commission on the Arts, 450 Eighth St. NW, Fifth Floor, Washington, D.C. 20004 ... Wear something different next Halloween or grab a conversation piece that could fill your living room. Arena Stage is holding a prop and costume sale Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. featuring items used in the productions of "The Crucible," "The Cherry Orchard," "The Cocoanuts" and other plays ... Tonight at 8 in Georgetown University's Intercultural Center auditorium, Franchelle Dorn, Floyd King, Ed Gero and Pat Carroll will hold a Shakespeare poetry reading to benefit Operation Love, an organization that feeds homeless and other needy families. A tax-deductible contribution of $25 is requested. Call 587-4974 for information.