We're going to take the cultural center away from New York," said Mayor Marion Barry a few weeks ago. "We're going to make Washington, D.C., the cultural capital of the world." Roger Stevens has been saying the same thing for quite a while and, as board chairman of the Kennedy Center, trying to make it happen.

In recent years the Kennedy Center has become a world class showcase for performing arts, but this has little to do with local artists. What kind of climate does Washington offer them -- particularly in comparison to New York? Are Barry and Stevens right?

The Washington Post's critics, querying local artists, found a love-hate attitude toward the Big Apple. Most seem to prefer the style and pace of life in Washington, but there is still a feeling (strongest among actors and weakest, perhaps, among painters and rock musicians) that you haven't really made it until you've made it in New York. It is no longer the only place to succeed, but still the biggest, and a place where many artists feel they must spend at least a part of their lives.

New York's position as an arts center is not as all-powerful as it was a generation ago. Washington's position has improved enormously, and there are scattered moments when, briefly, it may outshine New York. But when they talk about putting New York in second place, the mayor and the mogul still have to use the future tense.