The current, multimedia exhibit that stretches down the central foyer of the Washington Humanities and Arts Center is actually a guide to the center itself. The photographs, collages, lithographs, crafts and posters on view now through Jan. 31 represent 24 of the center's resident groups.

The center organized the display to give the public a chance to sample the "creative process" of its tenants. An arts festival would probably do the job better. This exhibit doesn't bring out the spirit of the artists, mimes, musicians, dancers and craftsmen now working in the old Lansburgh Building -- it probably wasn't seriously meant to. It does, however, introduce the resident groups quite nicely, and makes for a leisurely review of some of Washington's most hard-working arts organizations.

Not many eyes will miss "Involutions," Carol Kurtz's huge, woven-wool sculpture that is the centerpiece of the Washington Women's Art Center display. At an angle, "Involutions" resembles a larger-than-life thespian's mask, with long cords draped to form pointed eyebrows and a deep smile.

National Conference of Artists, D.C. Chapter, is represented by a collection of six paintings that are almost hidden down a short corridor away from the central foyer. Among them are two untitled and unsigned oils that are composed of hundreds of dots of as many sizes and colors. The dots come together in interesting patchwork designs: One defines the broad nostrils and thick lips of a black woman's face; the other defines a landscape of hills and valleys. They are among the most interesting pieces hung in this hodgepodge of arts and ideas.

Gala Hispanic Theater, Archaesus Mime, Dance Exchange, Lettumplay Inc., New Theater of Washington, Tomorrow's World Art Center and Travel-lin' Blues Workshop are among the resident groups exhibiting in the new cultural center.

WHACO opened earlier this year in the heart of the old downtown shopping district on Seventh Street NW. Appropriately, the center has woven into its current display some of the black-and-white photographs from the City Museum of Washington exhibit, "Two Centuries of Change: The Idea of Downtown Washington."

Other displays directly reflect the purposes and goals of some of the resident groups, rather than present examples of their work. Library Theater, whose Books Alive program stages dramatizations of children's stories, has a construction-paper display like that on a school bulletin board. The bespectacled stick figure is sure to catch the eye of any educator who might browse by. And if it does, the exhibit will have done its job -- Library Theater performs for school groups.

Keith R. Young's handcrafted fiddle and dulcimer highlight the Folklore Society of Greater Washington's display, which also answers these questions: sWhat does FSGW do? What are the benefits of membership? How do I get more information? These are questions that most of the participating groups put to the public, in their own way, throughout the exhibit . . . . Oh, yes, all of the answers are there.

For further information, call the Washington Humanities and Arts Center at 724-2180.