Abe Fortas, the former Supreme Court justice, may have been indulging in a little poetic license, something that is not entirely foreign to the art of after-dinner toasting here.

"I doubt if even in Washington have so many movers and shakers ever been assembled in one room so happily," ventured Fortas. "Usually you can hear shrieks of anguish, cries of pain, then the blood starts flowing."

There was none of that last night, thank heaven. So-called movers and shakers of Washington's arts community, bidden to the F Streets Club by Kennedy Center chairman Roger L. Stevens, welcomed the Center's new artistic director Marta Istomin to their ranks quite hospitably, certainly peaceably.

Martin Feinstein, now director of the National Symphony and the Washington Opera but previously the Center's executive director for performing arts, showed up briefly. "Only for a drink -- I'm leaving for Japan in the morning and I've got to pack," he said, adding, "of course I wish her well. Don't you know I gave her flowers and put a button on her desk that said: May the Force be with you?"

For her part, the new artistic director gave everybody a glimpse of the gracious, smiling Istomin style that Stevens says he is going to rely upon heavily in the days ahead. ("Under that sweet exterior is a woman of iron," teased Fortas, who originally recommended that Stevens hire her.)

"Now I can send her out to meet all those people I don't like having to meet, and they'll be delighted to meet her" said Stevens. Later, he expanded it a little, describing her as "the very person who can take us into the 1980s artistically."

"A difficult task," said Istomin, an artist as well as administrator. "I will try to find a balance in quantity but also maintain a very high level of quality. Washington already has so much -- not only the Kennedy Center but all those other institutions."

Many of them were represented last night, including: National Endowment for the Arts chairman Livingston Biddle; Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin; Wolf Trap founder Catherine Filene Shouse; American Film Institute executive director Jean Firstenberg; Arena Stage's Zelda and Tom Fichandler; D.C. Commission on the Arts chairman Peggy Cooper; WETA's Ward Chamberlin; arts patrons Austin Kiplinger, Kenneth Crosby and Rep. Frank Thompson (D-N.J.).

Taking it all in was Istomin's husband Eugene. No toast-making for him, however.

"I play the piano better," he said.