Though the National Endowment for the Arts shies away from directly endorsing most new art, the agency is subsidizing several new works in theater and music.

In its first grants distribution for fiscal 2000, announced today, the agency is backing the efforts of a number of theaters across the country--including Washington's Arena Stage and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company--to showcase emerging playwrights. Arena is receiving $45,000 for the presentation of "Blue" by Charles Randolph-Wright, a part of its year-old American Playwrights Project. A play by David Lindsay-Abaire called "Wonder of the World" will be developed at Woolly Mammoth and premiere here in May. The NEA gave the theater $28,000.

Ever since the agency drew criticism in the early '90s for funding works that some critics found offensive, the NEA has directed grants at projects or organizations that are unlikely to stir controversy.

The largest grant to a Washington area arts organization went to Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts to help underwrite its chamber music series and radio programs. The $100,000 grant will support "Center Stage From Wolf Trap," a series of 13 one-hour radio shows, and fund eight concerts next year in its chamber series, including one commissioned work.

Three Washington-based national associations--Opera America, the American Symphony Orchestra League and Americans for the Arts--were given hefty grants for their field work. The symphony group received $165,000, the arts advocacy group $100,000 for a series of forums on the nonprofit and commercial arts, and the opera association $90,000.

The agency funded 820 projects, including 41 literature fellowships that are the only direct individual grants the agency now supports. Mark Brazaitis of Washington and New York received $20,000, the standard amount for writers. A graduate of Wilson High School and Harvard, he has written "The River of Lost Voices," short stories inspired by his work as a Peace Corps volunteer in Guatemala. The collection won the Iowa Short Fiction Award last year but Brazaitis is unable to support himself as a writer, he said. "Right now I am stringing together a series of small jobs. This grant will enable me to buy myself some time to work on my creative projects," said Brazaitis, 33, whose first novel will be published next year.

The money is designed to give a wide range of organizations a boost in their presentations, although most of the grants are much smaller than in the past. The Phillips Collection is slated to get $65,000 for a collaborative exhibition on the work of 19th-century French artist Honore Daumier. Next year's production of "Coriolanus" at the Shakespeare Theatre received a grant of $50,000. The Cambodian Network Council, a Washington area group, received $50,000 to create new dance dramas based on a princess tale.

The National Building Museum is slated to get $40,000 to support exhibits on alternatives to urban sprawl. The National Symphony Orchestra will receive $35,000 for its piano festival next year. District Curators Inc. got $30,000 to support a collaboration on a jazz opera, "The E & O Line," a take on the Orpheus and Eurydice tale.

The Washington Performing Arts Society, working with GALA Hispanic Theatre and the Latin American Youth Center, received $28,000 for a series of performances.

A grant of $20,000 was given to Dance Place to support performances and residencies during its 20th-anniversary season. The Washington, D.C., International Film Festival received the same amount for its annual event.