A long-awaited restructuring plan for the Kennedy Center reorganizes the performing arts institution under a new "office of the chairman" composed of a chief operating officer, a chief financial officer and a chief in-house general counsel. The office will oversee the entire institution and report to Chairman James D. Wolfensohn.

The proposal was unanimously approved yesterday by the center's board after it was presented by Wolfensohn. It was based on a five-month study conducted on a pro bono basis by the management consulting firm of Cannon Devane in conjunction with Wolfensohn.

"We have taken a hard look at ourselves and decided that we must reorganize," said Wolfensohn yesterday. "We have a clear vision of ourselves in what we want to do to contribute to the performing arts in this country. I don't think that's bad for nine months' work."

The new structure is a departure from the tradition of a single top executive, which was established by the center's founding chairman, Roger L. Stevens, and continued by his successor, Ralph P. Davidson. As such, it reflects an administrative trend at major arts institutions across the country in the past decade.

The new chief operating officer, for whom the center has already launched a search that it hopes will be completed by the summer, will be supported by a new vice president for administration. That vice president, whom the center hopes to have in place within 30 days, would be responsible for making any possible staff cuts. Many on the staff have feared this study would result in a recommendation for widespread cuts.

"The administrative VP will have to look at the efficiency of the place to make sure that every job is carrying its own weight," said Wolfensohn, who after nine months on the job is excited about his reorganization plans but is also noticeably weary. "My guess is that some people will be leaving but other positions will be made more effective... . We want this place to be the most efficiently run performing arts organization in the country."

The new appointments, which the center hopes will be in place for the 1991-92 season, are the first public indication of how Wolfensohn plans to organize the center since he took over as chairman last March.

Six weeks after Wolfensohn was appointed, Marta Istomin, the center's artistic director for the previous 10 years, announced her resignation, citing philosophical differences with the new chairman.

Some of the new positions will be filled by people currently on the staff. Clifton B. Geter, the center's director of finance, will become chief financial officer. Geraldine Otremba, currently director of operations, will become director of government relations.

Yesterday's other main development was the approval of a new local board, made up of community leaders and performers (primarily from the District, but also from Maryland and Virginia), that will meet six times a year. "This will not be a window-dressing board," said Wolfensohn, who also stressed that members of the existing board of trustees have been told they must make concrete contributions to the center. "It will be a working board. We need them to build a bridge with the local community broader than we have had in the past."

Wolfensohn said the additional board, which will report to him, is needed because the center is not only a national performing arts institution, but also "the core of the performing arts in the Washington area, with a real responsibility in the community to give stimulus and diversity to local audiences." The members will be named on April 22.

Also approved yesterday was the new position of director of theater programming, for whom a search is underway. In addition, Wolfensohn said the center hopes to bring in the best productions by regional theaters around the country.

He also listed the formation of two new fund-raising bodies: the Trustees Circle and the Corporate 100 Club, which during a three-year period are expected to raise at least $10 million. Wolfensohn said yesterday that $2 million has already been raised.

The fund-raising is needed, Wolfensohn said, to offset rising costs. The Cannon Devane study found that ticket sales have been roughly stable over the past five years, but that costs continue to rise. In addition, although the center is projecting an "operating expense equilibrium" for 1990-91, it is also facing a $2.5 million loss for long-deferred backstage maintenance.

Wolfensohn said he is pleased with this year's projected financial picture and the immediate response to the new fund-raising efforts. "While I am not allowed to use the word 'bankruptcy,' with the help of Congress, we have averted it," he said, referring to the commotion caused by his description of the institution's financial state when he took on the job last spring. "We have built a new understanding with the Congress and the administration, and a real basis for the future."