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Kathy Mattea advocates arts' role in education

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Photo courtesy of David McClister Photo courtesy of David McClister
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Kathy Mattea continues to come home to West Virginia through her music and her messages.

The Cross Lanes native was motivated to produce her "Coal" album following the 2006 Sago mine disaster. Her latest album, "Calling Me Home," presents a strong reference to her Mountain State roots. 

In addition to environmental issues, Mattea is an advocate for arts education. She'll be addressing the topic during her 6 p.m. Oct. 22 "Finding Your Path" presentation at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Millwood, Jackson County. Former Gov. Gaston Caperton also will be attending.

Mattea acknowledges that she excelled in math and science as a young student, but she said the arts provided her with the opportunity to "fit in." Double promoted as an elementary school student, she was labeled by her peers as a "brainiac."

"When I found music, I found a way to connect with other people that didn't have to do with social skills or fitting in," said Mattea, who will be in Charleston for the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame induction event Nov. 16 at the Culture Center Theater. "If we had a song and a guitar we could all sing together and there we were. We were a community. 

"It was sort of the first place that I began to find a way of being in the world that felt comfortable to me," she added. "I don't know that I would have ever been comfortable in my own skin had I not had that context."

She would welcome the chance to share her thoughts on education with Congress.

"It's so easy to dismiss (the arts) so quickly," said Mattea, who is collaborating with choral groups from local high schools to sing "My Home Among the Hills" during the benefit for the Jackson County Community Foundation. "You just don't know whose life will be changed or what point of view will open up."

While it was her career in music that led her away from West Virginia, it often brings her home, as reflected in her latest album.

"Getting deep into these songs and the tradition is like there was a stone missing in my foundation," Mattea said. "When I was young all of this Appalachian music was around me all the time, but there was no one to teach it to me. 

"Coming back to it has felt very natural and has been a really rich experience."

She has now lived in Tennessee for a longer period than she was in West Virginia, but it's important for her not to lose her connection.

"Growing up in West Virginia really does influence the way you see the world," said Mattea, who left West Virginia University at age 19 to pursue her singer/songwriter career in Nashville. "There are not very many places anymore where people are as attached to community and a sense of place, especially over generations."