THE ALL-TOO-COZY relationship that have characterized federal grants for the arts on the local scene may be breaking up. Instead of friends renewing grants to friends and big money going almost exclusively to the more established presitgious organizations, such as the National Symphony and Arena Stage, there is a change evident in the latest grants of federal money for arts here. This may in fact reflect a larger national pattern: the National Endowment for the Arts is offering $26 million in grants to 120 organizations around the country -- and the list isn't just another warmed-over version of the last one. The grants which recipients must answer with $3 for every $1 awarded, are going to a wider cross section of recipients.

That's especially good news for Greater Washington, since the endowment's offer of $1.4 million to groups in this area is the largest ever. Included is a $250,000 grant offer to a coalition of 26 diverse local groups that are planning to move onto the Lansburgh's building downtown and convert it into a kind of "farmers' market" for arts. The groups include small neighborhood outfits from all parts of the community. Many of these organization, such as Sign os the Times, a gallery and workshop for children and adults in far Northeast, have been looking for downtown showcase and the kind of support that headquarters in the Pennsylvania Avenue area will atract. Philip Ogilvie, president of the umbrella organization for this project, says the variety of participants should "dispel the artificial conflict vis-a-vis elitist and non-elitist art." Even if it doesn't, the plans and proposed occupants of the building offer great promise, which, coupled with a chance for substantial assistance from the endowment, should stimulate local support.

Another new local recipient of a $250,000 challenge grant is Workshops for Careers in the Arts, part of the Duke Ellington School for the Arts and established by Peggy Cooper, who now heads the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The remaining awards also reflect a recognition of many disciplines: the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Folger Theatre Group, The Wolf Trap Foundation and the Washington Performing Arts Society.

Still to come, of course, is the local fund-raising response, in a town with no large company sources. Unless the $3 can be raised locally for each $1 offered, the whole program could fizzle. The endowment is offering an attractive list of projects -- small as well as large, new as well as established -- that need generous community support.