Can the small towns around Warsaw, Ind., support an arts center? Can Spartanburg, S.C., afford to host an arts festival?

In a series of grants that Chairman Bill Ivey is announcing today, the National Endowment for the Arts is underwriting assessments of the cultural life of small and medium-size cities. The project, now in its second year, is a major initiative of his and attempts to increase access to the arts for communities outside the major arts centers. The program was started partly as an answer to congressional criticism that some states weren't getting a share of the federal arts funds.

The 83 grants, totaling nearly $750,000, will be distributed in 20 states. Most of them are small grants, intended for the planning phase of a project and as a catalyst for local support.

"For smaller communities, $10,000 goes a long way," said Lakin Cook, the education manager for the planned $22 million Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston, W.Va., where Ivey is scheduled to announce the grants package.

The center plans to use its money to underwrite a statewide tour of a folk ensemble and planning for outreach programs.

"Since we are a new entity, the grant legitimizes our ability to present programs, supports our planning process and allows us to partner with groups that are well established but may not be able to afford these programs," Cook said. She had worked as the executive director of the state arts commission and saw how the federal funds were applied. "Last year a grant was awarded to the Chamber of Commerce in Morgantown, West Virginia. They were interested in developing an arts plan but were intimidated by the NEA and the process. Getting the grant helped pull in corporations and West Virginia University," Cook said.

Elsewhere in West Virginia, a group of artists in Parkersburg received $5,675 to develop a plan to revitalize the downtown cultural district. Another group in Thomas plans to use a $10,000 grant to do the same for its historic district. The West Virginia Arts Initiative for the Millennium plans to use a $10,000 grant to assess arts education and then shore up its cultural education programs.

Among other grants, the Lakeland Art Association of Warsaw, Ind., received $8,900 to determine whether to start a local arts center. And the Hub City Writers Project in Spartanburg, S.C., is getting $10,000 to develop a festival, documentary, book and Web site.