The National Endowment for the Arts yesterday announced $22.6 million in challenge grants, including $1.9 million to three Washington arts institutions.

Among the 35 recipients are Arena Stage, which received $750,000, National Trust for Historic Preservation, awarded $750,000, and the Washington Performing Arts Society, $400,000.

Three other area groups received advancement grants: Sun and Moon Press in College Park, The Writers Center in Bethesda and the Washington Project for the Arts.

Frank Hodsoll, the chairman of the endowment, an independent federal agency established in 1965 to encourage and support American arts, announced the grants at a news conference in Los Angeles.

Ten arts groups received $1 million or more in challenge grants, including the Metropolitan Opera, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary,and received the largest grant--$1.5 million.

"We want to assure as permanent as possible an increase in the capital base of arts institutions so that they will be more inclined to take artistic risks, both with respect to the art form itself and with respect to reaching broader audiences," said Hodsoll.

The challenge grant program has been enormously successful at attracting private support. In the past, arts groups have matched the federal grants at a rate of 9 to 1, instead of the required 3-to-1-ratio. Using that track record, Hodsoll said, the grants are expected to generate nearly $180 million over the next three years and increase the total since 1977 to $1 billion in new dollars raised for the arts. In the six years the program has existed, it has given $110 million in federal matching grants to 475 organizations.

"We are setting a national fund-raising record for the arts in this country," said Hodsoll.

Washington has steadily increased as a home for nationally recognized groups and this year tied for third with Chicago, behind Los Angeles and New York, on number and quality of grants. This is the second challenge grant for both Arena and the Arts Society and the first for the National Trust.

Receiving an endowment grant is often a boost for many groups. "The great thing about challenge grants is that they give visibility and tremendous momentum to go out to individuals, corporations and other sponsors," said Arts Society manager Craig Hosmer. The Society's first grant, $100,000, was matched on a 6-to-1 ratio, he said.

The Arts Society, Arena and the National Trust plan to use the money to help start endowments.

The grant "gives us a margin for excellence. If we keep raising the money for our fund-raising goal, then we just keep the current level going," Zelda Fichandler, the producing director at Arena, said. "But now we can have, for example, one or two more rehearsal weeks. We can have more resident artists, more resident ensembles, enlarge and strengthen the acting company and more project development work."

The endowment also set aside $1.6 million for 29 advancement grants, designed to help small or emerging groups with financial and technical assistance.

But it is expected that WPA, an exhibition and performance space opened in 1975, could receive up to $84,900; Sun and Moon, a publisher of contemporary American fiction founded in 1977, about $44,500, and Writers Center, a 1,500-member cooperative started in 1976, about $85,000.

Allan Lefcowitz, the Writers Center founder and board chairman, called the grant an immeasurable boon. "It puts the good housekeeping seal of approval on the organization. It will enable us to go to the corporations, and we have never gone to that well."