D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon heartened and confused a raucous crowd of concerned arts supporters last night by pledging to seek only a 1.45 percent cut -- just $60,000 -- in arts funding for the current fiscal year.

Dixon didn't point out that the 1.45 percent would come on top of a 22 percent cut proposed by her predecessor, Marion Barry, imposing a total cut of 23.45 percent on the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities from the 1990 budget of $4.2 million. Some in the audience apparently took her remarks to mean that the cuts were much smaller than they had feared.

"She's being slick and she's being understandably slick," arts activist Peggy Cooper Cafritz said in an interview after the mayor's speech, "because she doesn't want to take the blame for it."

The forum at Lisner Auditorium, organized by the newly formed Arts and Culture Task Force, attracted a few hundred artists and arts supporters as well as D.C. Council members John Wilson, Charlene Drew Jarvis, Hilda Mason and Jim Nathanson.

The comments of local artists and concerned citizens were punctuated by choral singing, saxophone playing and drum beating. "Tonight is the very first step in moving towards a cohesive arts community," Cafritz told the audience. "We are willing to take a cut because in an economic war ... everyone is going to get burned. But we want our cut to be ... proportionate to our success." Cafritz said later that the arts community could accept a 5 to 10 percent cut.

Ted Gay, chairman of the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, told the forum, "We're here tonight ... to educate our elected officials so that they very clearly understand the absurdity of the proposed budget cuts."

And before Dixon arrived, the audience applauded when Andrew Mellen, executive director of the D.C. Arts Center, stepped up to the microphone and said emphatically, "I'm not here tonight to bash the mayor, but to appeal to her reason and remind her of the promises she made before she was elected."

But Dixon quickly calmed the room by declaring that her support for the arts remains strong. Saying that she wanted to correct "misinformation," Dixon argued repeatedly that she was proposing only a small cut. "I appreciate {the fact that} with a small budget any amount of money is very much felt, but I'm telling you, we're talking about 1.45 percent," she said.

Harking back to her campaign theme, Dixon said, "We have got to get this city's fiscal house in order. That is imperative... . But 1.45 percent is all we're talking about here... . I'm sorry that it's anything."

Finally, the mayor drew a standing ovation when she said, "I intend to honor my commitments and above all, I'm going to honor my commitment to the arts community."

While Cafritz said that Dixon probably "confused" those in the audience, Jarvis said she believed the meeting made its point. "Clearly every constituency is going to be affected by budget cuts. ... But I applaud the arts constituency for organizing because lobbying is very effective," she said.

Speakers who lined up at microphones talked of the importance of the arts, especially in times of crisis.

"We need the balance of art and beauty in our lives because right now, it's pretty bad," said Lois Mailou Jones, an 85-year-old former Howard University art professor. "Art is the balance and we must see that this cut does not happen."

"People need vision and hope," said actress Franchelle Stewart Dorn of the Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger. "My plea is that, as we try to cope with the city's other challenges, we not forget to nurture its spirit."

"Washington has finally become more than the political capital of our great country," said Ted Pedas, co-owner of Circle Films. "It has also became a cultural capital. Do any of us want to see that change?"