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The Consumer Society

Painting: 'Nice Clothes and Brain'What can you do apart from complaining against materialism? Is retreating to a simpler lifestyle the only option?

So long as 85% of the world's wealth is owned by 10% of the population (these are UN statistics), those who are poor and dream of a better life will continue to want to buy more goods and comforts. No movement in history preaching asceticism has ever had many followers. So the consumer society is unlikely to vanish in our lifetime.

But the middle classes are beginning to change their ambitions. They are now spending three times more on services than they did thirty years ago. Material objects are no longer enough. Relations with other people have more influence on their lives. People are interested above all by people. So manufacturing more and more things and buying them in supermarkets and malls is not humanity's ultimate destiny.

The Muse has been engaged in a practical project to turn shops into cultural centres, meaning places where people can discover more interesting ways of interacting with one another. A courageous manager of an IKEA store is collaborating with us. We have started aMuse@IKEA. We have been organising numerous cultural and educational events in it, including our Muse Conversation Dinners, which have enabled people from the surrounding communities to get to know one another and to expand their horizons. The employees in the store have revealed an amazing variety of artistic talents, which shoppers could never normally discover. We hope to create a new model for the retailing industry.

We would like to start similar projects in other branches of trade. Can you help?

We are making a film about the IKEA experience, which aims to offer a new vision of how the consumer society might evolve. Poppy Sebag-Montefiore is directing it, and has received help from brilliant camera and sound experts who donated their time free. We need more funding to edit and complete it. Can you help?