In a Feb. 5 front-page article, Michael Abramowitz and Nell Henderson wrote that proposed budget cuts for the District will have "the greatest impact on housing and economic initiatives." Actually, the largest cut proposed -- about 23 percent -- will most affect the arts.

While those of us in the arts community recognize that every constituency must contribute its fair share, this proposed cut in arts funding is proportionally much larger than any other, and sadly, comes from an area in which expenditures are already disproportionately small (but finally growing).

In the present climate of war, crime and recession, one might ask why we need to spend money on the arts, which many may view as indulgent entertainment.

The answer is that art is not always mere entertainment. Art, like the Paul Strand exhibit at the National Gallery, can hold a mirror up to society, offering reflection and solace and challenging our presumptions.

In a crime-ridden city, drama, like this season's productions at the Folger Theatre and Arena Stage, can examine the roots of violence and obsession and affirm our desire for compassion and justice.

Art can help us define our cultural identity and construct bridges of tolerance and appreciation. Evidence of this can be seen in the many wonderful multicultural programs in the schools and arts institutions of this city -- like those at the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, the Corcoran School of Art and the Levine School of Music -- where music, dance, painting and sculpture affirm our deepest longing for connection.

In the capital of a nation at war and a city besieged by crime and rising costs, we need this reflection and challenge. Art might not bring immediate solutions to our war, our crime and our recession, but in the mirror of art, we might seek and find our future's brightest vision together. FRANCES THOMPSON McKAY Washington