With private and corporate contributions already down, Virginia arts organizations were faced with more belt-tightening this week: Gov. Douglas Wilder's revised state budget drastically cuts the appropriation to the Virginia Commission for the Arts.

The bulk of the reduction, if approved by the General Assembly next month, will go into effect in July 1991, the beginning of the second fiscal year of the two-year budget. The original appropriation recommended for the commission by the Virginia General Assembly last February was $5.2 million for each of the two years. That figure was reduced to $4 million for 1990-91 and dropped to only $1 million for 1991-92.

In practical terms, arts organizations that have received grants from the commission in the past can count on little -- if any -- state funding for their work in the next fiscal year.

"The governor said to cut back on the niceties and preserve the necessities," said Lawrence Framme, Virginia's secretary of economic development. "We tried to preserve the mission of the commission as best we could."

The arts, said Framme, are competing for tight state dollars with programs for labor, industry and worker safety. "It's tough," he said. "We are in a situation where we have to look at programs relative to each other. I feel very badly for these people that are going to be directly affected by this."

The arts commission, which would be cut by a total of 54 percent in the two-year budget, is one of 15 economic development agencies. Most received proposed cuts of less than 20 percent; the only agency hit harder than the arts commission was the Department of World Trade, whose budget cut by almost 60 percent.

"People are really upset, as you can imagine," said Peggy Baggett, director of the arts commission. "There's a sense that {the cut} is disproportionate. ... Clearly, we're going to have to eliminate whole areas of funding."

The first to feel the cuts are likely to be the smaller and newer arts groups, which receive up to 30 percent of their annual budgets from state grants.

"I was talking to the director of the Mount Vernon Chamber Orchestra today," said Toni McMahon, president of the Fairfax County Council of the Arts. "She said, 'If I don't get funding from the commission, we won't exist. We just won't exist.' " The orchestra received $4,000 from the commission last year, 25 percent of its budget. "It sounds like a small amount," said McMahon, "but that's the difference between making it and not making it. You can't go out in this economy and find that kind of money."

But even financially stable organizations expect to feel the pinch. The Fairfax Symphony was slated to receive $107,000 in grants from the commission for 1990-91, about 10 percent of its annual budget. It now expects only $77,000, said Executive Director Mark Ohnmacht.

And what does he expect from the commission in 1991-92? "Zero," he said "Zero to $10,000."

The symphony has already started making cuts; it canceled half of the free park concerts scheduled for this summer and is looking at reducing concerts in schools. "We would rather cancel a concert now than once we've announced it," said Ohnmacht.

A rally by Virginia arts advocates is planned for Wednesday in Richmond.

Virginia joins a growing list of states in cutting arts funding. Eighteen state arts agencies have reported decreases in current appropriations, said Kim Craine of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies. Northeastern states have been the worst hit: New Jersey's annual legislative appropriation is down 41 percent; Massachusetts is down 28 percent.

"I always feel like arts are the first to go because people fail to make the vital connection to the economy," said Craine. "It's not just icing on the cake."

Before Wilder's budget announcement cuts, Virginia ranked 27th on the list of state arts funding per capita: 88 cents. Hawaii ranks first at $7.83; the District of Columbia is third, $5.73; Maryland comes in 16th, $1.35; and even impoverished West Virginia ranks 25th, 94 cents.

The situation isn't likely to improve.

"I don't think it's going to be for one year," said Baggett. "Whatever changes are made in the state budget are things we're going to have to live with for a while."