More than $80 million in lost funding will be returned to the Australia Council over the next four years as the federal government dissolves the contentious Catalyst arts-funding program instigated under former prime minister Tony Abbott and former arts minister George Brandis.

As ABC reports, Catalyst's arrival in 2015 — which transplanted the responsibility for publicly funded art projects to be directly under the Arts Ministry's purview — caused concern when it resulted in several smaller arts organisations losing their funding while being perceived to unfairly advantage already-affluent major bodies.

The arts portfolio has since been taken over by senator Mitch Fifield, who acknowledged in a statement that the government had listened to feedback from "the Department, the Australia Council and the arts sector regarding the ongoing arrangements for the Australian government's funding for the arts portfolio" in making the decision.

Funding to the amount of $80.2 million will now be returned to the Australia Council. According to the ABC, the Arts Department will keep $2 million a year to fund organisations outside the Australia Council's wheelhouse.

Over the course of its short existence, Catalyst — nee the National Programme For Excellence In The Arts — was the subject of sustained widespread criticism from the broader arts community as well as the federal opposition, who branded the program a "slush fund".

While the arts sector has largely welcomed the news, the chief executive of industry body Live Performance Australia, Evelyn Richardson, told News Corp that they are "concerned that the damage has already been done".

"There is a lack of stability across the sector, and we may not see the full impact of that for another year or two," Richardson said.

Contrary to much of the critique levelled against the program, Fifield maintained that "Catalyst has been successful in supporting a broad range of arts projects, especially those by small to medium arts organisations".

But the problem goes further than that, according to arts donor Simon Mordant, who told News Corp that the sector had been "under-invested for a long period of time", a stance backed up by history.

In fact, Catalyst arrived only a year after the Australia Council and Screen Australia had already each lost more than $25 million in funding as part of an $87.1 million cutback.

"We are now hitting the period of significant catch-up," Mordant said.