Robert Redford welcomed Maurice Sendak, the author and illustrator, Sunday to head a new national theater company for children Redford is organizing at his Sundance Institute.

Sendak, author of "The Wild Thing," will be the theater's artistic director. Assisting him is Arthur Yorinks, winner of the 1987 Caldecott Medal for his children's picture book, "Hey Al.""Everyone is formed one way or another by what he or she experiences as a child," Redford told news media at his Sundance Resort in the mountains southeast of Salt Lake City.

"Too often, this segment of our society gets second-rate, leftover entertainment," he said. "We established Sundance Children's Theater and asked Maurice and Arthur to run it because we believe kids are intelligent and deserve original, thought-proving entertainment."

Redford said he got the idea 18 years ago when he first started an outdoor theater program at Sundance.

"I found that in talking to writers in my own industry who were writing adult drama, many expressed the desire to write children's plays and drama," Redford said. "At this institute, we will bring together both new and established artists and writers from many fields, such as film, theater, music and dance to collaborate on productions."

An $800,000 grant from the George and Dolores Eccles Foundation of Utah will help fund construction and initial costs.

Production will begin in 1990 with the play, "Peter Pan," based on J.M. Barrie's novel.

"We wanted to start our first season in 1990 with something familar," Sendak said. "But then we want to transform that familiarity into a Peter Pan that will uncover a fresh and unique vision of this well-known story.

"Our attempt with each production, and we may not always succeed, will be to take chances, experiment and to surpise the audience," he said.

The 1991 season will include three new productions - an original play, a new opera based on a children's book and an original ballet.