"When I was growing up," Joan Mondale told an audience at a Kennedy Center luncheon yesterday, "the arts were a half hour a week of art of music -- something to give us a bit of polish. But the arts are not a frill. They are an important part of the school curriculum."

It was a familiar appeal to make the arts basic to community and school. But this time, it was made to state school superintendents -- people who could make a difference in school curricula.

Mondale spoke at the finale of a unique joint three-day conference between the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Alliance for Arts Education, a national "cross section" of educators, administrators and parents sponsored by the Kennedy Center.

The Alliance had invited the CCSSO to meet with them during the past week. "The major purpose was to bring the groups together so they could meet each other," said Jack Kukuk, director of education for the Kennedy Center.

Among the topics discussed were art programs in urban and rural areas, including programs helpful in easing Montclair, N.H., into desegregation of schools. Yesterday morning, the superintendent of public instruction for Oklahoma talked about the impact of the arts program on his state's schools.

"One major thing we've talked about is the comprehensive arts program," said Kukuk. "It's learning through the arts. For instance, you can teach sets in mathematics through music. The whole idea is an important concept that many of these people have not considered.

"We found out [both groups] really are mutually interested in promoting the arts," he said. "Unfortunately, we probably only met the chiefs who were interested."

Twenty-four state school superintendents attended, and half of the remaining states sent representatives, according to A. Craig Phillips, head of the CCSSO. Virginia was represented, but Maryland was not, Phillips said.

Phillips, whose organization will hold its regular annual meeting in November in Des Moines, Iowa, said that "there's been a history of stand offishness between artists and art educators. We need an awareness of a cohesive relationship to build the arts education in this country."

Archie Buffkins, consultant to the Kennedy Center for minority affairs, was less optimistic about the event. He said the conferees "have exchanged ideas in a highly sophisticated way. But if we take out that highly visible personalities came, it was a good social meeting of people who haven't seen each other in a long time."

Buffkins told the group yesterday morning that they needed to push the Carter administration for a "major policy statement" from the newly formed Department of Education. "They should ask for a person no lower than a deputy assistant secretary to handle the arts within the Department of Education," he said later.

Phillips said he was "not sure that would be appropriate or productive."