When the director of Artspace asked donors to turn over their state income tax rebate checks to the non-profit organization that provides living and working space for artists, he expected to raise $75.

So what was his reaction to receiving more than $2,100 in response to a letter mailed to 250 regular supporters of the artists' quarters on Pierpont Avenue?At first, Artspace Director Stephen Goldsmith was merely pleased that some 20 of those contacted decided to send from $25 to $500 to help the non-profit project that is home to 15 local artists.

Goldsmith's pleasure turned to surprise when he heard that only the University of Utah had received that much money, even though the rebate checks themselves encourage donations to education and social services.

The state Office of Education had gotten only $22 and the Utah System of Higher Education only about $30 as of early October, although local school districts and university campuses had done better. The state Department of Social Services reported getting $628.

Those numbers made the amount of money given to Artspace even more significant to Goldsmith, especially given the light-hearted tone of the letter signed by the organization's board of trustees.

"Within our pretty, great state there comes a uniquely propitious time when opportunism is a matter of practicality. Pretty soon a great thing will happen to thousands of Utahns: we will be receiving our state tax refunds.

"And being the practical non-profit organization we are, we see in this an opportunity to keep our public dollars working for the public good," the Sept. 7 letter begins.

It had been written after Goldsmith learned that no cultural organizations are mentioned on the $80 million in income tax rebate checks sent out to return part of the state's $110 million surplus.

That upset Goldsmith, who said Artspace serves not just a cultural function but also provides affordable housing and is helping to revitalize downtown.

Despite what he saw as the strength of those arguments, he still expected only to get back enough money to cover the cost of printing and mailing the one-page letter, about $75.

After all, the funding needs of public schools, higher education and the social services received much more attention during the debate over what to do with the state surplus.

As of Friday, Goldsmith said $2,105 had been received. At this point, he said it would not surprise him if twice that much ends up being donated to Artspace as a result of the letter.

All of the funds will be matched by a grant from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation. The money will be used to expand housing and studio space at the project, 325 W. Pierpont Ave.

Fifteen artists live and work in the renovated warehouse and an additional 27 have studios there. Goldsmith lives in the building with his two children.

The project was started in 1983, with the help of a federal grant.