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New Grants Aim To Get Americans Talking

THURSDAY, AUG. 24, 1995

The National Endowment for the Humanities distributed $870,597 Wednesday under its “National Conversation” initiative intended to promote a countrywide self-examination.

The grants bring to more than $4.2 million the amount the agency has awarded under a program that seeks to engage thousands of citizens in structured discussions - in church basements, libraries, union halls and retirement homes - about what it means to be an American.

The idea is the brainchild of endowment chairman Sheldon Hackney, a former president of the University of Pennsylvania. He said he hopes the country could pay heed to what unites it at a time when what divides it gets most of the attention.

So far, grants have been made to groups in 160 communities in 41 states.

The “conversation” program has come in for remarkably little criticism, said Donald Gibson, an endowment official. Only one congressman has criticized it publicly, calling it a waste of money, Gibson said.

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