Spreading the Word

Thank you to everyone who’s sharing the story of ART AND PEP. Check back here for news and updates about our filmmaking efforts.

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Art Johnston and Pepe Peña, known locally as Art and Pep, are civil rights leaders whose life and love has fueled LGBTQ equality in the heart of the country.

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Mercedes Kane’s “Art and Pep” is another film that works as both an intimate personal story and as a broader historical exploration. 

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“Art and Pep” is my top documentary pick of the festival. A Chicago tale, “Art and Pep” dives into the history behind legendary Northalsted bar Sidetrack and its charming owners, Art Johnston and Pepe Peña. 

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The couple’s story, tied inextricably to Sidetrack and the movement for queer rights in Chicago, is the subject of director Mercedes Kane’s documentary Art and Pep, premiering at the Chicago International Film Festival (October 12–23).

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One generation’s nostalgia is another’s history lesson. Every major city and many towns smaller than you’d expect have had their queeroes, who put the “community” in their LGBTQ community, giving them a place to meet and organize, and speaking up when many were still afraid to. 

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A gentle warmth pervades the frames of Art and Pep. Mercedes Kane’s documentary looks into the lives of Arthur “Art” Johnston and Jose “Pepe” Peña, the life partners and co-owners of one of Chicago’s most famous and historic gay bars, Sidetrack.

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Additional highlights during the 35th Anniversary edition of Out on Film include a focus on local Atlanta-based films and filmmakers led by Mercedes Kane’s documentary Art and Pep about Art Johnston and Pepe Peña, the owners of the iconic bar Sidetrack in Chicago. 

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Outfest celebrated its fortieth anniversary this year with an incredible festival of films.

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At its core, Art and Pep is an inspiring reminder of what the LGBTQ+ community can be at its best, and a tribute to the vital role that our cherished bars continue to have at the centre of it.

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The entire ART AND PEP team is thrilled to announce the film’s world premiere, taking place at Outfest on Sunday, July 17 at 11:00 am. Like Sidetrack, this year is Outfest’s 40th anniversary and we can’t think of a better film festival to share this love story on the big screen for the very first time.

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'In finding each other we started developing power': A look at Midwest’s largest gay bar

At 40 years old, Sidetrack is a social and political force,and its owners are the subject of a new documentary.

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Chicago Pride History Makers: Art Johnston And Pepe Peña, Founders Of Sidetrack Bar And Advocates For Justice

Art Johnston and José “Pepe” Peña were just two guys who met at a bar and fell in love. The problem was that society had a problem with them. 

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‘Carrying The Torch’: How Sidetrack Owners Paved The Way For Chicago’s Gay Community

When Art Johnston moved to Chicago to finish his graduate degree in the 1970s, he said he only planned on staying a year. Then he met the love of his life: José Pepe Peña.

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‘Sidetrack’: décadas de diversión, amor y activismo en la comunidad gay

Pepe y Art son los dueños de la discoteca ‘sidetrack’ y conocidos líderes de Chicago por los derechos de la comunidad LGBTQ.

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A Love Story That Birthed an Iconic Gay Bar and a Lifetime of Activism

Chicago activist and bar owner Art Johnston and his partner in life and business, Pepe Peña, star in the upcoming film Art and Pep.

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'Art and Pep' spotlights the life and love of Chicago civil rights leaders

'ART AND PEP is the love story behind the long battle to love – and live – freely,' says director Mercedes Kane

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Upcoming Film ‘Art And Pep’ Tells Decades-Long Love Story Behind LGBTQ Bar Sidetrack — And The Fight For Gay Rights In Chicago

The documentary chronicles the 40-year relationship of LGBTQ civil rights leaders Art Johnston and Pepe Peña, owners of Sidetrack in Lakeview.