The world of art took on some unusual dimensions at the Eastern Market last week, as visitors found themselves treated to everything from mime to fire-eating.

The street fair, which included a variety of artists, was held at Market 5 Gallery at the market.

Gallery director John Harrod said the fair was designed to catch the attention of people who shop on Saturday at the Eastern Market stores and outdoor stands where vendors sell fresh farm produce.

"We want to tie our cultural thing to the commercial thing that happens here on Saturdays," Harrod said.

Last week's fair was an experiment to see if artists would like to perform or display their work on a regular basis.

Although some artists said they thought business was slow, Harrod said, "By and large, they wanted to come back-even folks who didn't make a lot of money."

Several signs were posted around the gallery, explaining that the performing artists were working free of charge and would gladly accept donations.

"Artists have to pay rent and eat too," the signs said.

David Ceslikowski, of Capitol Hill, discovered that his photographs generated more praise than money.

"I've sold one so far," he said in midafternoon. But he received many compliments on his photographs, which were taken during his travels through Europe, Mexico and the U.S.

The cost of frames, camera equipment and supplies for color photographs comes out of Cielikowski's salary at the World Bank.

"It pays for my habit," he said.

Although he studied international relations and economics in college, C'eslikowski said he would be a full-time photographer if he could afford it.

One artist at the fair never spoke a word. A sign explained that Antoinette E. Pineau, a mime, studied abroad with the French master Marcel Marceau. Pineau, who holds a drama degree from Catholic University, performs her craft on the sidewalks of Washington in hopes of earning enough money to return to Paris.

The art of fire-eating was demonstrated by magician S. Brian Suddeth, who act attracted a crowd of children. Spurred on by cries of "Eat the fire! Do it again!" Suddeth gave several encores of snuffing out flaming sticks in his mouth.

When his audience marveled, "How do you do that?" Suddeth would only reply, "It's fake fire."

For a finale, he lighted the tips of two of his fingers and extinguished the flames in his mouth.

While artists displayed batik designs, pottery and other creations outdoors, there were poetry readings and films shown inside the gallery. In addition, a microphone was set up outside and was open to anyone who wanted to perform. Jazz players, a flutist and singers took their turns.

Marlon Thorne and Brian Solomon, both of the District, stepped up to the mike to play a percussion ensemble featuring the "steel piano," also called the steel drum, a musical instrument from Trinidad. $4The steel piano, which is made by cutting off the top third of a 55- gallon oil drum, intrigued the audience. When various places on the end of the oil drum were hit, it created sounds somewhat similar to those a xylophone makes.

"It's just like any musical instrument," said Solomon. "It has scales and notes. It can play any kind of music-classical, punk, jazz."

Later, the music changed to country-western and blue grass when space was cleared in the gallery for a square dance. Gallery director Harrod, who estimated that about 75 people showed up for the dance, said "Everybody had a great time."

In fact, the dance was so popular that Market 5 may offer square dance lessons in the future.

"If there's an audience for it," said Harrod, "we'll try anything."