'Art and Pep' premieres on Peacock, June 1

Tue. May 23, 2023 1:37 PM by GoPride.com News Staff

mercedes kane’s documentary 'art and pep'

photo credit // artandpep.org

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

Just in time for Pride, a feature-length documentary film that spotlights the life and love of LGBTQ civil rights leaders Arthur “Art” Johnston and José "Pepe" Peña, known locally as Art and Pep, will premiere on NBCUniversal’s Peacock streaming platform on June 1. 

Art and Pep, a 90-minute documentary by director Mercedes Kane, tells the inspiring story of the couple’s long struggle for equality and their fight for everyone to love freely.

Art and Pep exemplifies the power of love. Because Art fell in love with Pep, he stayed in Chicago and they eventually opened Sidetrack, a space that allowed them to extend that love to the community,” said Kane.

Now the world will toast these two Chicago icons, who, for more than 40 years, have been a driving force behind LGBTQ equality in Chicago and beyond, with Sidetrack fueling movements and creating community in Chicago’s Northalsted neighborhood.

Johnston met Peña, a Cuban immigrant who came to Chicago after fleeing Cuba, at a Chicago gay bar in 1973. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

Johnston co-founded Equality Illinois, the state's oldest and largest civil rights organization representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people. 

In 1982, the couple opened Sidetrack, which has grown to become a cornerstone of the Midwest’s LGBTQ community,

“The LGBTQ community is able to live openly and display their love and commitment because of the queer pioneers who risked everything for equality,” said executive producer Kevin Hauswirth, who first met Johnston in 2006. “Art and Pep’s story is more than their bar, or their battles to advance our rights. Their story is our community’s living history.”

Nearly 140 hours of footage, including more than 35 interviews with family, Sidetrack employees, activists, advocates, and politicians, was captured before and during the pandemic. 

At one point filming was interrupted when COVID-19 almost took the life of Johnston, but the bond the two share was as present as ever when Peña ensures his life partner recovers.

Art and Pep will let families across the country see this gay love story as a great American love story, to see how far LGBTQ people had to come to simply be recognized, and how much further we still must go,” said Hauswirth. 

Released in 2022, Art and Pep has screened at film festivals nationwide, including the Chicago International Film Festival last October.

For more on the documentary Art and Pep, visit artandpep.org.

You can watch some shows on Peacock for free or sign up for Premium right here.

ART AND PEP Trailer from Daisy May Films on Vimeo.