The place was the Kennedy Center Atrium. The dinner was sit-down. The guests were "advocaters and implementers" as one put it.

Specifically, it was the Alliance for Arts Education -- a Kennedy Center national organization -- and the Council of Chief State School Officers, together not just at dinner last night, but for unprecedented joint sessions of their conventions today and tomorrow.

The Alliance is a vehicle for the Kennedy Center to follow through on its congressional mandate to be a national arts center, working for arts education and also working with other cultural centers across the country.

The gathering alone, said Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in his remarks to the dinner guests, shows memorial but the living center it is supposed to be.

Kennedy basically gave a talk on the arts, but he allowed himself one quick quip.

Referring to his sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, one of the Alliance's committee chairmen seated at the head table, the senator said, "I am authorized to say my sister has no announcement to make about 1980. And if she is not going to make a statement, I'm certainly in no position to make a statement about 1980."

According to Kennedy Center officials, Sen. Kennedy and his sister were scheduled to fly home last night to visit their mother, Rose Kennedy, who had a hernia operation earlier yesterday.

"We want the state school heads to make a commitment," said Jeanne Heninburg, from the Alliance, about the goals of the meetings this week. "We want them to say they'll include arts programs in the state budgets."

"Hopefully we will get a commitment from the state officers to further arts education in their states and to have statewide plans for the arts," said Smith. "It's a question of priorities. We think the arts are as important as everything else in the education of children. It takes as much to paint as it does to learn to read."