The National Endowment for the Humanities yesterday announced the award of 101 challenge grants totaling $27 million to a variety of institutions around the nation.

In Washington, Georgetown University Kennedy Institute of Ethics was awarded $700,000, and a research organization called Former Members of Congress received a $70,000 grant.

The Art Institute of Chicago received a $1 million grant -- the largest amount given -- to defray operating expenses and help the Institute retire its debt.

A panel of seven discussing the Art Institute called it "an unquestionable humanities resources" that "houses important collection and undertakes important public programs."

The other $1 million grant went to the University of Tennessee at Knoxville which will use the money for library acquisitions.

The grants particularly help colleges, museums, and libraries with financial problems. As with challenge grants given by the Arts Endowment, the Humanities Endowment challenge grants must be matched with three times the amount awarded. The money raised must come from non-federal sources and must be raised in three years.

Panelists who discussed the Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown, a national center for the study of bioethics, considered it a "top priority" for funding, according to Humanities spokesman Barry Wanger.

The money will be used to endow the library at the Institute and to develop "a permanent information retrieval system" to provide information on ethics.