As the International Sculpture Conference kicks off tomorrow in Washington for the first time since 1980, a nagging question still surrounds the original conference's most outstanding legacy: What really is going to happen to J. Seward Johnson Jr.'s "The Awakening" at Hains Point?

Since it was announced in September that the proposed Peace Memorial would require moving the popular sculpture -- placed at the site on a temporary basis as part of the 1980 exhibition -- neither the National Park Service nor the artist himself has been able to say what will be the fate of the massive aluminum piece known affectionally by locals as "the Giant."

"I have heard nothing from the Park bureau," said Johnson last week from Princeton, N.J. "There's been no official or unofficial word from them."

Earle Kittleman, a spokesman for the National Park Service, confirmed that there has been no communication with Johnson but said that the agency was under no obligation to do so. Johnson "has never moved it," said Kittleman. "That piece of sculpture sits there from 10 years ago. It's a holdover from that {ISC} display. I'm stressing temporary display from 10 years ago."

It has been known by both parties all along (although not by the public) that the sculpture is on loan from the artist, but that fact doesn't seem to matter to the multitudes of visitors who romp on the Giant's sturdy arms and head, take pictures by it or simply enjoy its visual impact while driving by. Indeed, some feel so strongly about the sculpture that a group called Citizens to Save The Awakening was formed last fall and a petition was circulated. " 'The Awakening' should be left right where it is," reads the petition signed by 110 persons and dated Sept. 28, 1989. "While we are supportive of a Peace Garden, it seems that the removal of a beloved sculpture without any comment from the public is intrusive and indicative of the type of behavior that expresses itself in war: destruction in the name of peace."

Copies of the petition were sent to James M. Ridenour, director of the National Park Service; Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr.; Glen T. Urquhart, chairman of the National Capital Planning Commission; and the Commission of Fine Arts.

"The Awakening" is one of two pieces of sculpture remaining on public land of the 44 works placed outdoors from the 1980 conference, according to David Furchgott, executive director of the International Sculpture Center. The other work, Nancy Holt's "Inside Out," is on the Ellipse. Kittleman said Holt's piece, which resembles a giant bird cage, also is "there under the same sort of perpetual, informal" agreement.

Paula Stokey of Sculpture Placement Ltd., which represents Johnson, said various groups and individuals have inquired about purchasing "The Awakening" over the years, but since the announcement of the Peace Memorial plans, she has received "a flurry of telephone calls." Some of the inquiries came from foreign countries. Johnson said he would prefer that his work stay in Washington "if a place was suggested that really was great for the piece. I'd have to consider that.

"Once a large piece of sculpture or something has been in a place and has been accepted by the public, there's a certain wrenching when you take that away," said Johnson. "It's like taking the nose off of someone's face... . Once it is accepted I think that it should have some sort of immunity to arbitrary rethinking."

As for planning a counterattack to have his work remain where it is, Johnson said the battle is not his to fight. "I check in and ask if anything has happened," he said. "But I don't think the artist should be involved in something like that. If the artist speaks and if somebody listens, they listen. But you can't shout in their ear. You can't demand an ear."

USIA's 'Artistic Ambassadors' of Music Ten classical musicians will be honored tonight at the National Museum of Women in the Arts for being named "artistic ambassadors" by the U.S. Information Agency. Following a formal presentation of the awards, the winning musicians -- selected after a series of competitions held earlier this year in Stanford, Calif.; Atlanta; Chicago; and New Haven, Conn. -- will perform selections from their repertoires.

The winners are Thomas Otten, of Los Angeles; Hao Huang, of Spartanburg, S.C.; Phillip Evans, of Miami; Sara Laimon, of Stony Brook, N.Y.; Chiu-Ling Lin, of Des Moines; Stephanie and Suzanne Leon, of Grosse Pointe Farms, Mich.; and Anna Norbert, Derry Deane and Kari Padgett Caldwell, of Tulsa.

The USIA's Artistic Ambassador Program was formed in 1983 to promote cross-cultural understanding by sending American musicians abroad.