Leaders of the local arts community are organizing to protest funding cuts for the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities proposed this week by Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon, pleading that cultural programs are not dispensable extras.

Dubbing itself the Arts and Culture Task Force, the new group is holding a public forum next week to try to dissuade public officials from making the 23 percent cut that Dixon is proposing this fiscal year to help offset a $130 million deficit.

Organizers say that on top of a 17 percent cutback from initial requests for $4.2 million last August, the slash could wield a devastating blow, limiting valuable education and outreach efforts.

The arts "may be trite to some people, but they affect the quality of life issue," said Leila Smith of the Cultural Alliance. She is one of the organizers.

She predicted that the first effect of the cuts will be to limit publicity, which in effect restricts public access.

"The arts aren't going to die if you lose public funding. What you are going to miss are the vehicles that take the arts to the audience," she said.

Some organizers said they are also worried about the impact on grants in progress, and Barbara Nicholson, executive director of the commission, said she can offer them little solace because she doesn't know where the cuts will have to be made.

Ann Norton of the Washington Stage Guild distributed notices about proposed cuts in play programs for her production of George Bernard Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession" last weekend. She said she has received only the first half of a $20,000 commission grant that is holding her program afloat.

"It has put my company in an incredible cash flow crunch," Norton said. "I'm handing out paychecks literally wondering whether I can cover them."

The forum, open to the public, will be held in George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium at 6 p.m. Monday.