The Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project was created by Dr. S. Allen Counter, former Director of the Harvard Foundation and Professor of Neurology in 2002 with the aim of increasing ethno-cultural diversity in the portraits that currently exist on the walls of buildings at Harvard of men and women who have served the University with particular distinction, from the college to the professional schools. To this end, Dr. Counter requested and received funds from the Office of the President of Harvard University to support the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project as an ethnic diversity, equity and inclusion initiative at the University.The aim of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project is to reflect the diversity of individuals who have served Harvard University for at least twenty-five years with exceptional distinction by commissioning portraits that include (but are not limited to) persons of African American, Asian American, Hispanic/Latino American, and Native American backgrounds deserving special recognition.
In 2004, a committee of Harvard faculty and administrators was organized for the governance of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Project. The Reverend Professor Peter J. Gomes was appointed the first chairperson of the committee, and served in this capacity until his passing in 2011.
In January 2011, Dr. John E. Dowling, Gordon and Llura Gund Professor of Neurosciences was appointed chairperson and served in this capacity for five years. In 2015, Dr. Sandra Naddaff, Director of Studies in the Literature Concentration and Dean of Harvard Summer School was appointed Chairperson of the Harvard Foundation Portraiture Committee, and currently serves in this position.