Steps taken in the wake of a disappointing fund drive have left some arts leaders wondering about the future of United Arts, the umbrella organization formed in 1988 to shoulder the fund-raising chores for arts groups in Central Florida. On April 30, UA's public fund-raising campaign crossed the finish line more than half a million dollars shy of its $6.4 million goal. Even without that shortfall, eight of its nine major benefactors faced cuts in their 1997-98 budgets. In addition, a fund set up to help re-establish a resident orchestra has been zeroed out. Yet perhaps the most ominous aspect of the future funding plan would cap grants at $500,000; currently, its biggest benefactor receives more than $673,000. With expectations lowered, arts groups that had discontinued individual efforts in order to come under the UA umbrella expect to refocus on taking care of themselves. Expect some heads to butt. "We're all competing for the same dollars," says Jeanne Daly, UA's fundraising director. "It's not a great solution." In the long run, the decision to cap UA funding ultimately could result in its demise, suggested one arts leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity. Others say the cap signals the start of a new era in which UA continues to provide some funding for larger, more established organizations while expecting them to become more self-supporting. And while limiting benefits to larger groups, the cap will lets UA spread its wealth to more organizations. "There's so many of the smaller groups that aren't getting very much at all," Daly says. "You can't remain the same. You can't remain stagnant." This month, trustees are expected to rubberstamp recommendations to fund the major players next year in the following amounts: Bach Festival Society, $130,000 (down $8,226 from this year); Civic Theatre, $168,000 (down $10,450); Orlando Museum of Art, $636,000 (down $37,723); Orlando Opera Company, $452,000 (down $25,643); Orlando Science Center, $317,000 (down $19,012); and the struggling Southern Ballet, $214,000 (down $11,787). Also under the new budget, three new principals will be added. OCCA, which imports out-of-town orchestras to perform, can expect $208,000 -- $12,000 less than it received last year. And as a new principal, the Orlando Philharmonic will receive $130,000; last year it received $246,950 through the now-defunct Music Development fund, as well as $142,000 to underwrite performances with the Bach Festival, Orlando Opera and Southern Ballet. Thus, the Philharmonic will net about a third as much money. Only the Orlando-UCF Shakespeare Festival, the third new principal, figures to come out ahead. Last year it received $75,000; as a principal, it will get $110,000. Of course, it now must begin contributing to UA's bottom line. The demise of the Music Development Fund, coupled with less money to the Philharmonic, sounds a dirge. It could cause musicians dependent on that support to pack up their instruments and take their talents elsewhere. Gone could be the prospect, however faint, of another orchestra forming here. The groups aren't enthralled with the prospect of resuming individual fund-raising, particularly in view of the recent lackluster results. Doubling their challenge will be the unlikelihood of tapping UA trustees, who already represent some of the deepest pockets in town, including Disney, Lockheed Martin, the Orlando Magic, Orlando Sentinel, Hubbard Construction, Sprint, SunTrust Bank, Time Warner, Universal Studios and Darden Restaurants. Having given to the communal fund, the trustees can't be counted upon to reach back into their billfolds. And that means a dogged search for new sources at a time when the area has been drained by fund-raising for construction of the new Science Center and expansion of the Orlando Museum of Art. Don't expect a thundering horde of new trustees rushing to the rescue. This leadership group, required to donate at least $1000,000, already has shrunken from 27 members originally to 12 today. What now? "Getting the word out beyond our small community is a good idea," Daly says. That word: Help!