March 15 2013 12:00 AM

East Lansing raising funds for sculpture to honor city icon

When Mary P. Sharp was elected to East Lansing City Council in 1965, housing discrimination against racial minorities and homosexuals in the city was widely accepted. She did not accept these norms and actively fought against what she saw as unjust treatment. She introduced a ban against discrimination that was revolutionary not only for East Lansing but the country as well. Her opinions, which were controversial at the time, paved the way for a city that now revels in its diversity.  

Seven years after her death at 89, the Mary P. Sharp Tribute Committee is seeking aid from the community in commemorating Sharp’s life and work with a sculpture by Wisconsin artist Richard Taylor. The committee has raised about 95 percent of the $56,000 needed for the piece, and is now reaching out to the community to contribute tax-deductible donations to reach its goal. 

“I felt she had not yet been adequately recognized for what she accomplished,” said retired Ingham County Circuit Judge Michael Harrison, who is project originator. “(Her achievements) were not easy things to do.” 

The sculpture also commemorates the 40th anniversary of the city’s anti-discrimination ordinance covering employment and public accommodaations. Coincidentally, one City Council member who voted for Sharps ordinance was Gordon Thomas, grandfather of City of East Lansing communications coordinator Ami Van Antwerp. (Thomas, who also serverd as East Lansing Mayor, died in 1997.) Van Antwerp is the liaison between the art committee and the City of East Lansing, and is working with Sharp’s daughter, Mary Sharp Jr., on this project to honor her legacy of acceptance and forward thinking.

“Richard captured the remarkable and unique energy of my mother in his abstract sculpture,” said Sharp. “The sculpture is dynamic, and it’s an amazing tribute to her positive energy. It’s exciting that that energy will be propagating (again) from City Hall.”

Van Antwerp, said the city hopes to have a public dedication in August. The ceremony will unveil the sculpture on Abbot Road near the northwest corner of City Hall. 

Donations are accepted by mail (a donation slip can be downloaded at or in person at the East Lansing City Hall, 410 Abbot Road. You can also donate by phone at (517) 319-6927.