For more than a decade, Arlington's funding for the arts has been limited to a dozen groups formally affiliated with the county.

That policy was changed Saturday by the County Board. Officials said new groups and individuals will be able to compete for public money.

That will make it tougher financially on the established groups that have been getting the money. Arts funding, $50,000 this year, is not expected to increase.

But a representative of one group that has been receiving county help said the policy is good.

"This will really lead to an arts explosion in Arlington. That will be to our advantage," said T. Thorne Wiggers, past president of the Arlington Players, a theater group.

"This will be great for everyone," said Gail Reals, vice chairman of the Arlington Commission for the Arts. "Arts and culture have such a vital role to play in this community."

At stake is not just direct financial support, but use of public auditoriums and theaters to put on shows, storage space in county facilities and the help of two costumers, a technical director, a facilities manager and four stage technicians on the county payroll.

The total value of funding and those services is about $500,000 a year, said Norma Kaplan, Arlington's cultural affairs division chief.

Kaplan said the previous policy limiting funding to the dozen groups, among them the Arlington Symphony, Arlington Dance Theater, Arlington Metropolitan Theater and Children's Theater of Arlington, created a "stable environment" for the arts over the years.

In return for public funding, those groups put on shows and performances that were a benefit to the community, she said.

The problem, Kaplan said, was that new arts groups "found it impossible to some degree to get support."

The new policy requires artists and organizations to submit an annual application for money and facilities. An advisory panel of arts experts and county staff members will review the applications and make recommendations on which should get support. The Arlington Commission for the Arts will review the recommendations, but the final decisions will be made by the County Board.

"We do need a process where {new} artists . . . can become part of the scene," said board member Ellen M. Bozman.

County Board Chairman Albert C. Eisenberg added that groups currently receiving county money "will receive due consideration" and that as the limited amount of money is divided, the board will use as much sensitivity and provide as big a cushion as it is able.