Hundreds of shoppers milled through the gallery where the watercolor collages of internationally known painter Grace Hartigan are on display. Some stopped to study a collage briefly, then walked on; others sat on benches snacking and looking at the works.

The gallery is a permanent exhibition area in an upper crosswalk of Columbia Mall in the Howard County town. It is the result of talks four years ago between Thomas Freudenheim, then director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, and officials of The Rouse Company, developers of Columbia.

From eight to 10 exhibits per year are sent to the shopping mall gallery by the Baltimore museum, wtih part of the costs covered by the Maryland State Arts Council. The gallery was equipped and furnished with a $10,000 grant from Rouse, and the expenses of changing the exhibition are covered by the mall.

"We believe that this union between the artistic and the business community is vital to all our lives, merchants and consumers alike," says Edwin A. Daniels Jr., director of Rouse's Art in the Marketplace program.

The publicly owned mortgage banking, research and development company has linked the arts with many of its 50 retail centers across the nation by sponsoring music programs, commissioning or purchasing pieces of art, and prividing space for branches of art museums -- all in shopping malls.

Daniels admits that Hartigan's work is "competing with shoes, socks and underwear." But, he adds, "Our purpose is to educate more people per day through maximum exposure here. A larger number of people pass through this gallery than visit the museum in Baltimore daily."

The artist herself is guarded in her opinion about exhibiting in the middle of a barketplace.

"Right now, I'm loving it, but I wouldn't if I felt my work suffered from this type of exposure. This is a good alternative to a private gallery, another way to get art out for the world to see," said Hartigan, whose works will be on display in the Columbia Mall through Jan. 18.

Susan Badder, curator of education at the museum, sees the Columbia gallery as "a unique opportunity to offer the public at large a museum quality experience in a non-forbidding evironment; an opportunity to experiment with exhibitions; and a quality barometer of taste of what people want to see."

In adjacent Montgomery County, support for the arts from corporations has been obtained by different methods.

John F. Dealy, president of Fairchild Industries, Inc., in Germantown helped make a Bicentennial film about Montgomery County and in the process met representatives of arts organizations in the county. One member of his company's staff joined the board of the Montgomery County Arts Council, established by the county to promote literary, visual and performing arts.

But promoting the arts, which usually includes a program of grants for innovative projects, requires increasing amounts of money. After County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist informed the arts council that public money was "drying up," and could not be increased, the council set out to find "new sources for money."

Dealy's name was mentioned at an arts council board meeting, his employe contacted him and he consented to be general chairman of an auction dinner committee. The combined silent and live auction, attended by almost 300 persons, netted more than $17,500. And Arts Council Executive Director Jessie MacKinnon says that much of it was due to the efforts of Dealy.

Dealy persuaded other corporation officials to buy a total of 12 tables at $1,000 each and to buy tickets at $25 or $50. Some of the officials donated auction items, ranging from an antique lady's shaver from the 1920s to an electric car to an hour-long sightseeing trip in a company plane.

Not all appeals for support succeeded. Dealy said some people declined to contribute, saying, "We have a budget and the budget is full," or "We would rather put our dollars into national programs. Our policy is to give to the lowest economic group and the arts are just not deserving of first priority."

Half of those who did contribute wanted full details as to what would be done with their money. "we don't give money out to someone we know nothing about," Dealy said he was told.

There were some other hurdles. MacKinnon and Barbara Howard, membership chairman of the arts council, were "asked to leave a shopping mall for what a mall official considered unauthorized soliciting of businesses," when they went from shop to shop seeking auction items in exchange for acknowledgements in the Auction program.

Dealy explains his own contribution of money and time, saying, "I what to support our company's people when they become involved in community activities on the grounds that we (the company) are a part of the community. We're not just a company with national interests. Business takes the rap for being interested only in economic growth and is cast in the posture of taking from society. This company's involvement in the community arts organizations gives our employes a good feeling about the company -- that management is not just a cold group of money managers."