It came down to two frequently bandied-about expressions on the state of local artists: "Ghost town of downtown" and "Artland of America." The bandying took place at the reception last Thursday announcing the plans for this year's "ADD Arts Festival 1987." Somewhere in the middle distance between the defeated and the dreamers is where the arts scene in downtown Washington is.

The ADD Arts (Activities for Downtown Development in the Arts) people are determined to keep local artists going and growing. The fourth annual festival, flush with past success (15,000 attendees last year) and more corporate sponsorship (AT&T, C&P Telephone, Pepco, etc.), will take place during two days of the Labor Day weekend (Sept. 5 and 6) and has expanded from the Gallery Place Vendor's Mall to include Western Plaza. On Saturday the 5th, there will be a "Music Night" on Western Plaza, featuring folk music of the Smith Sisters, the reggae group Black Sheep and jazz headliner Shirley Horn. On Sunday the 6th, from noon to 9 p.m., there will be more music, film, theater, dance, poetry and art, with poets Wayson Jones and Essex Hemphill, the Woolly Mammoth Theatre, the Liz Lerman Dance Ensemble and an Artists' Graffiti Wall.

"We're going to turn the ghost town of downtown into a pretty exciting place," said Bill Warrell, executive director of District Curators, producers of the nonprofit event. "And we're going to show that local artists are voices to be heard as the downtown area changes."

Brain Food

The world of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters opens up to the masses at a Smithsonian-sponsored program, "Six Evenings With America's Premier Artists and Authors." Participants in the seminars include: writers Cynthia Ozick, Elizabeth Hardwick and Susan Sontag; poet Anthony Hecht; and composer Hugo Weisgall -- all of whom are members of the 89-year-old academy.

First at bat this Wednesday at 6 p.m., sculptor George Rickey and painter Will Barnet discuss what it means to be an artist in America today. Call 357-3030.

Competition City

The First American Banks, Metro and the MetroArt Consortium are calling all artists to enter their "MetroArt I Exhibit," a juried competition that will select work by 12 winners to be displayed in six metro stations around the area; winners will also get a $1,000 honorarium.

The works should be two- or three-dimensional and fit in with the size and space of the various subway stations. The winners will be on display until May 1989. Participating stations include Ballston, King Street, Metro Center, New Carrollton, Silver Spring and Vienna, and any professional artist from Maryland, Virginia and the District is eligible. There are lots more submission rules, so call 638-2406 before the July 31 deadline, and start riding the rails for inspiration.

Notes From All Over

The best of childhood has been distilled in "Childhood Choices," an exhibit closing today at the Library of Congress. At times eerie -- children's voices echo from a tree house that has a lonely bike leaned on the tree -- and other times sentimental -- baseball cards and comic books -- it elicits "remember-that" whispers from most onlookers. The show has been so popular with the lunchtime crowd on the Hill that it was extended and reextended ...

There are two quietly excellent exhibits at the National Gallery of Art, obscured by the glare of the "Helga" exhibit. First, if anyone misses the explosive energy of New York City in the slower pace of Washington, get recharged at "New York Interpreted: Joseph Stella, Alfred Stieglitz." The show, running through mid-August, consists of five large, modernist Stella paintings with 21 Stieglitz photographs. The paintings were part of a two-year Stella project from 1920-22 that explored the pattern of a traditional Italian five-paneled altarpiece, but burst with the intensity of the modern city. The photos are as much history as art, as Steiglitz captured the Flat-Iron building in 1902 and an immigrant ship in 1907. Also fine are the evocative and colorful works in the exhibit of art by American artist John Marin, up through September. In his "Grey Sea," for example, Marin lays on the paint thick and abstract, but still manages to portray that moody scene with clarity ...

Outdoor picks of the week: The "Concerts in the Bandstand" series that starts this Sunday and runs through Sept. 27 at the outdoor bandstand at the National Museum of American History. It kicks off this week at 4 with Brazilian carnaval music and dancers of "BrasUsa." And also on Sunday, the "Concerts on the Canal" at the Foundry Mall in Georgetown has a nice juxtaposition of offerings. The New St. George performs traditional English music and Morris dances, and Grazzmatazz plays bluegrass.