Several thousand D.C. residents inspected the city's new convention center yesterday during the first full day of the three-day Capital City Community Festival, a get-acquainted event sponsored by the convention center.

Audience attendance was less than expected but exhibitors turned out in force. Community organizations distributed literature at their booths and many of the city's artists, singers and dancers exhibited their skills in the vast building at New York Avenue and 9th Street.

"If I hadn't had to come down to do this exhibit I would probably still be wondering where the convention center is," said Evelyn Cohelan, who was staffing a booth for the St. Francis Center's program for the terminally ill and their relatives. "Now at least I know how to get here."

The literature Cohelan distributed on how to cope with death and dying competed unsuccessfully for attention with a group of performers from "Dancin' Unlimited," one of the 80 groups scheduled to appear on the main exhibition hall's center stage.

Audience events were more popular than the booths. A fashion show drew a large crowd, and there was always a curious audience for Blues Alley's talent showcase, where the noted saxophone player Stan Getz was scheduled to appear.

The show's organizers were expecting peak attendance at last night's concerts by Gladys Knight and the Pips and today's midday gospel concert, featuring Shirley Ceasar and local gospel groups.

"It's pretty slow right now," said festival organizer Ronald Lee, surveying the sparse crowd. A visitor agreed. "So far it hasn't been worth the trip," said Daniel Fields, who had traveled downtown with his two children to see what the show was all about.