Project Zero was founded by philosopher Nelson Goodman at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1967 to study and improve education in the arts. Goodman believed that arts learning should be studied as a serious cognitive activity, but found that the general communicable knowledge about arts education was zero. Goodman therefore gave the project its name “zero” since that’s where it was starting from.
From the first, Project Zero took a cognitive view of the arts, viewing artistic activity as involving mental processes fully as powerful and subtle as those used in the sciences or public policy. During this early period, position papers were written, and modest experiments were undertaken. The results of this first phase of work are captured in a final report for the U.S. Office of Education, prepared by Goodman, Perkins, and Gardner, called Basic Abilities Required for Understanding and Creation in the Arts (1972).
In 1971, Perkins took on the directorship and was joined in 1972 by Gardner. In the following decade, PZ researchers focused their attention principally on empirical work in the area of cognitive psychology, with a continuing emphasis on artistic issues. However, PZ also began to examine issues that went beyond the arts, to look at issues like problem solving, critical thinking, and brain organization. 
By 1990, research and development at PZ was of a distinctly applied nature, and PZ began working with schools that were based on multiple intelligences; "smart schools" that encouraged creative and critical thinking; and collaborations like ATLAS, that included the Coalition of Essential Schools, the School Development Program, and the Education Development Center.
In the 1990s, Project Zero turned our attention towards the challenge of making our work, and particularly our work in education, better known, both nationally and internationally, most notably via the summer institute that convened researchers and educators to explore pressing questions in education. In 2000, Steve Seidel became the director of PZ, and in 2008, the leadership passed smoothly to Shari Tishman. 
Today, research at Project Zero continues to explore the challenges facing education today and tomorrow. How can schools create access and personalize learning for a diversity of students? How can students develop 21st century skills such as life-long learning, critical thinking and creativity? How can teachers recognize and develop each child’s full intellectual potential? These are but a few of the contemporary conundrums that we wrestle with in an effort to impact educational theory and pedagogical practices in cultural settings around the world including Argentina, Australia, China, Colombia, Italy, South Africa, Sweden, and the United States. 
For more Project Zero's history, view Howard Gardner's A Personal History