PINE BLUFF, Ark. (AP) _ A national survey of desirable places to live rated this city next to last because of a finding that it lacked culture and now Pine Bluff's arts center has been shut down by a fire.

Ellen Stern, curator of the Southeast Arkansas Arts and Science Center, said a dollar loss hasn't been figured in the blaze Tuesday, which closed the 10,000-square-foot center.

But the cultural loss is more extensive, she says, since the center is the only public repository of permanent and traveling art collections in the region stretching southeast from Pine Bluff to the borders of Mississippi and Louisiana. The nearest similar centers are in Little Rock and El Dorado.

''It will be a down time for culture in southeast Arkansas until they are operating at full steam again,'' said Pat Lile, director of Pine Bluff 2000, a community booster group. ''Pine Bluff is really the gateway to southeast Arkansas, it's the city to which most other towns look for examples of community facilities and offerings. The arts center was one of those.''

Nelson Britt, the center's executive director, said he will meet with his staff Monday to decide which programs might continue in temporary quarters, which he's now scouting. ''We'll talk about what we honestly feel we can continue providing out of our 27 programs.''

''This center means an enrichment of the quality of life, and at levels that are accessible to all people. These things that enhance our quality of life are priceless,'' said Ms. Lile, whose organization is devoted to rebutting parts of the Rand-McNally ''Places Rated Almanac,'' which in 1985 listed Pine Bluff next-to-least desirable among 329 places to live.

Yuba City, Calif., was last on the list; Pittsburgh was No. 1.

Ms. Lile did not think the arts center fire would affect the city's rating for cultural attractions, ''because they never counted it to start with. They said it was too small'' in ratings which considered factors such as the number of curators and periodicals on file.