With costs skyrocketing and corporate grants on the decline, the Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibition service has decided to get into sales.

"We're not selling off the nation's treasures," explained Eileen Harakal, a Smithsonian spokesman. "What we're doing is fabricating cheaper copies of our traveling exhibits so other groups--which are also short of money--can afford them."

The exhibition service has been collecting $200 to $40,000 rental fees for 31 years from museums, schools and other groups interested in a particular display. Most exhibits cost $700 to $800 to rent, "but elementary and secondary schools can't afford that now," Harakal said.

So in mid-December the Smithsonian announced it was going to sell copies of exhibits at a lower price than renting the real thing. It has sold 67 copies of its first offering, "Black Women: Achievements Against the Odds," and hopes to sell 1,000 this year. Each exhibit will have 20 two-by-three-foot panels featuring photographs, drawings and texts, and will sell for $200.

"There are a lot of groups out there, like black museums and black colleges, which are very poor," Harakal said. The Smithsonian's hope is that this exhibit will appeal to them and be within their budgets, and that the new lower cost will help the exhibit program "expand to groups that have never been able to afford exhibits before, like banks and libraries."

The traveling exhibit service receives only 15 percent of its funding from Congress. The rest comes from rentals, the sale of publications and from corporate and foundation grants.

But the service is generally running at a loss and the situation is getting worse because there are fewer grants. "They will only let us run so much in the red," said Harakal.

Later this year, panel exhibits will feature "Colorful Kite Tales" and "Please Stand By," an exhibit on the social and technological history of television.