"I'm staring at all the people," said a wide-eyed Washington editor. "They look wonderful. They should look like this all the time."

"They" gathered 1,000 strong Saturday night to look wonderful, look at each other and get a sneak preview of the Wax Museum, Washington's newest and biggest nightclub, set to open March 11. The occasion was Winterfest '82, the second annual Artists and Performers Ball.

Leon Berkowitz, a major figure in the '50s Washington Color School, beamed from behind bushy eyebrows. "The arts community has grown so much. I remember when you could fit everybody into one small room."

The air was alive with a pre-depression gaiety--a natural state for the arts, but the dancing seemed more intense, the finery more outlandish as the Washington arts community remembered it was sailing toward the iceberg of arts budget cuts.

The gala, organized by Elliot Ryan, publisher of the Unicorn Times, was held to help avert that bleak situation--it raised funds for five local arts organizations: WPFW-FM, Washington Review of the Arts, Watershed Foundation, Washington Project for the Arts and the D.C. Foundation for Creative Space.

Among those attending: Vietnam memorial designer Maya Lin, WPA director Al Nodal and mayoral candidate Betty Ann Kane, pumping hands and occasionally speechifying on the state of business in the city.

Like a Jackson Pollock painting, fashion plates were scattered in patterns around the expansive Wax Museum floor. Basic black was one order of the night. "It's the raging color, elegant and anonymous," one model-type said.

Galo Terrazos, however, scorned basic black and roamed the party dressed in an enchanting blue goblin outfit, complete with ears and blue face. His was the most far-fetched costume on a night where invention encompassed variations on tuxedo, Chicago gangster, beach bum, hand-me-down and dress-me-up.

"They do come out of the woodwork," said Dody Bowers, manager of the 9:30 club. They came out of studios, galleries and rehearsal spaces, to mingle with cultural-event goers drawn from the ranks of lawyers, psychiatrists and GS8s through 13s. Whatever their origins, they swayed to the Washington Jazz Battalion, slinked to the reggae exhortations of Black Sheep and the Pacific Orchestra and summoned a last ounce of bounce at 3 in the morning for the Dinettes' '60s girl-group esthetic.

Winterfest '82 seemed either a warm-up for Halloween or an East Coast hybrid of the Hollywood semi-celebrity party. It's a new genre--Hollyween.